On August 18, 2003, 10 days shy of his 16th birthday, Paul Robinson accomplished a lifetime goal when he sent The Egg, a V11 (8A) in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada.
“I remember seeing old Sharma videos and watching him and guys from those days crushing boulders and seeing that climb in particular,” Robinson says. “So having the ability to go out there and try The Egg and then do it? It was a dream.”
When he logged the ascent on 8a.nu, there was no way he could have known that 17 years later he would log his 1,000th problem 8A or harder. But at the end of last week, Robinson made an ascent of Get Laid, a V13 (8B) in Coal Creek, Coloardo—number 1,000.
Reflecting back on his first 8A, The Egg, he says, “At that point in my life I wasn’t a professional climber, I was in high school. Obviously there was no way that I could foresee it even being feasible to get to 1,000 one day. If someone back then had asked me if I thought I’d do 1,000 of these, I’m pretty sure i would have just laughed and said, ‘Hell no!'”
Robinson isn’t 100 percent sure he’s the first person ever to climb 1,000 boulder problems 8A or harder, but he very well may be. We caught up with him to find out what the journey has been like, what he’s got planned next, and when he plans to polish off the next 1,000!
Q&A with Paul Robinson
How and when did you set this goal of 1,000 8A boulder problems?
I’ve had an 8a.nu scorecard for almost my entire climbing career. I was one of the very early adopters to start using 8a.nu. I think I was one of the first 2,000 people to sign up for the website. That would have been back in 2000ish.
8a.nu was obviously the tracking tool that I used to kind of see where my climbing was going and everything like that. I’d say maybe in 2016 or 2017, somewhere in that time frame, I was just curious as to how many hard boulders I had done. I think at that point it turned out that I had done somewhere in the 700s in terms of 8As and up. And so I was like, “That would be pretty damn cool to do 1,000.”
It was never just about doing a number. I always wanted to be pushing myself. The 8th grade in bouldering is the most difficult. So I wasn’t just chasing easy 8As to get to 1,000; it was more, This is a really cool process, and if I get to 1,000, that would be a spectacular number for me.
Why 8A in particular? Why not V10 (7C+), for example?
If you’re using the American standard, the V-scale, double digits is obviously a big thing. But in the French scale, you’ve got your 5s and 6s, beginner levels; then 7A+ to 7C+, which is advanced; and then 8A (V11) and up. That 8A boundary breakthrough is a big deal. I think a lot of people really struggle to get from the 7s into the 8s. That 8th grade kind of quantifies the most elite level of rock climbing.
Sure, V11 is the second grade into the double digits on the V-scale, but when I first thought of doing this, if I counted my V10s I was already over 1,000. I’m the kind of person who wants a challenge, so I just decided to try to do 1,000 only in the 8th grade.
When did you send your first 8A? How old were you?
I believe I was 15, and it was in Squamish, The Egg (V11/8A). That was my very first one.
I remember seeing old Sharma videos and watching him and guys from those days crushing boulders and seeing that climb in particular. So having the ability to go out there and try The Egg and then do it? It was a dream.
At that point in my life I wasn’t a professional climber, I was in high school. Obviously there was no way that I could foresee it even being feasible to get to 1,000 one day. If someone back then had asked me if I thought I’d do 1,000 of these, I’m pretty sure i would have just laughed and said, ‘Hell no!’
It’s just been such a wild journey. It’s structured my life in some weird kind of fashion, this desire to climb as many of the hardest boulder problems in the world as I can
What was your 1,000th 8A? How long have you been in this final countdown stage?
My 1,000th was just the other day, a new V13 up in Coal Creek, Colorado called Get Laid. Put up by either Daniel Woods or Isabelle Faus, I’m not sure.
Before the coronavirus lockdowns, I was in Switzerland. My tally was in the 980s at that point, and I was just banging them out. Almost every day another was going down. I think I was at 995 or 996, and then COVID-19 hit the world and we had to get out of Switzerland as fast as we could. And it put a stop to everything.
I knew I would do it eventually, but at that point it was days away, and suddenly it was like, who knows when I’ll be able to climb outside again. That became a motivating force for me to continue training as hard as I could, building a wall in my yard, so when I did get back on the rock again I could feel as good as possible.
What have the feelings been since sending number 1,000?
I guess, in some ways, finishing was a relief, like, I’ve done this. I’m excited to have accomplished something that maybe no one in the world has done before—I’m not 100% sure, though!
I hate to use the word mastery—I am not the best climber in the world, no doubt about that—but at the same time, I think many of the top climbers in the world can say in some way that they have mastered their craft. You know, there’s the 10,000-hour rule: to master something you have to practice it for 10,000 hours. So what is it for rock climbing? How many climbs of what grade? Maybe 1,000 8As?!
But the second I topped out Get Laid, I kind of wondered, Can I do another 1,000? Are there even another 1,000 out there? I don’t even know.
I just did a first ascent on Saturday and so now I’m at 1,001, so who knows!
You log all of your ascents. Any thoughts or adivce for average climbers about recording their climbs?
I think that logging my ascents has really helped me in creating a pyramid for my climbing and I think that’s super important. There are so many people nowadays that climb their first V5 and say, “Well, now it’s time go to look for a V6.”
One thing I want to come through is that while it’s important to go climb at your absolute limit, you’ll learn more about yourself as a climber by climbing slightly easier problems and routes that aren’t your style. If you can climb every single 8A that’s put in front of you, and you build that pyramid really really strong, you’ll have a better chance with the 8A+s that are put in front of you.
So it’s super important to grasp the concept of broadening your pyramid to improve your own climbing. And logging your ascents, using a spreadsheet or 8a.nu or whatever it may be, is a great way to track your progress and quantify your outdoor boulding.
Do you have a favorite ascent or two in that 1,000?
So, so, so hard! I’ll give you one that was very meaningful to me
It was a repeat that wasn’t even incredibly hard, which is kind of interesting. It’s a problem called Total Eclipse, an 8A+ (V12) in Fontainebleu.
I climbed that boulder in early 2011. And it felt like a full circle kind of thing for me. It was my first trip to Font. When I was young, I was a super scrawny little kid and I always looked up to Dave Graham—I figured we had similar climbing styles, and I was just always trying to make it up the wall without my feet cutting because I could barely hang!
In one of the early Dosage films, Dave climbs Total Eclipse. I saw it when I was probaly 13 or something. It was so unfathomable to me that a) I would be able to climb that boulder, and b) that I would be able to travel to Europe to climb rocks.
So when I actually went to France and climbed it, it felt almost as good as sending a V15, because it was this decade-long thing. It felt like, Wow, this is crazy that I’ve been able to build a career for myself.
So what’s next? Some super hard problem, or more volume?
There are super hard lines that I’m constantly dreaming and thinking about. That’s always been my main focus. From the very beginning.
Hopefully with the coming years, I’ll be able to climb more and more of the hardest boulders and also establish more of them myself.