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Return of the Verm

Sitting in a friend’s living room in Saint George, Utah, I was showing a group of climbers my photography when one, whom I had met for the first time 30 minutes prior, proceeded to rip my work a new one, only to compliment it in the same breath.

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John the Verm Sherman
The Verm. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Sitting in a friend’s living room in Saint George, Utah, I was showing a group of climbers my photography when one, whom I had met for the first time 30 minutes prior, proceeded to rip my work a new one, only to compliment it in the same breath.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve seen your work,” John “Verm” Sherman said in a disparaging tone. “You’re the guy that uses all the flashes and shit in his photography. It’s a little much for me. … Hey, that’s a nice shot! Was that at sunrise? Great pictures, man!”

Sherman, the climbing writer and provocateur, obviously had no pretentiousness, and his openness made him easy to like. But there was not a topic we touched on that failed to elicit a strong reaction. The rest of us listened in hysterics as Verm laid waste to everything from toprope rehearsal of boulder problems (“For those new to the sport, boulderers don’t use ropes!”) to cheater stones at the start of boulder problems (“If you find your cheater stones at the base of the hill, assume I was there!”).

In the 35 years he has been a climber, Verm (short for “Sherman the Vermin,” a name given to him by a high school teacher) has been extremely vocal about his opinions regarding the sport, especially through his histrionic and hysterical writing. He is not only the author of Sherman Exposed: Slightly Censored Climbing Stories and Stone Crusade: A Historical Guide to Bouldering in America, but the progenitor of the bouldering V-Scale (“V” for Verm).

Verm, now 50 and living on the road, started climbing at 15 in the mid-1970s at Indian Rock, a small bouldering area in Berkeley, California.

“When I was younger it was important for me to do early repeats of problems like The Thimble and Midnight Lightning to test myself against the standards of the time,” he says. “But as I’ve matured as a boulderer I find it more satisfying to get on virgin problems—you don’t know how hard it is or even if it will go. Every time up is a test of everything you’ve learned in your career.”

Sherman’s first-ascent tick list—especially at Hueco Tanks, where he is considered the area’s most prolific problem developer—is as impressive as his list of injuries, and runs the gamut from the classic Hueco highball See Spot Run (V6) to sustaining a broken neck, pelvis and internal injuries when he broke a rap anchor on Wasp Stop in the Gunks.

I had to ask John what his thoughts are on today’s health-nut climbers. He simply said, “Hell yes! More beer for me!”


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 178 (June 2009).