This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 221 (October 2014).
In 2011, at the Bouldering World Cup finals in Vail, Colorado, a lean Australian emerged from isolation with his head partially shaved. From below the crown, monk-like, five inches of dark blond hair squatted like an afterthought.
Chris Webb Parsons gained his “skullet” by losing a bet that he’d never make the finals. One onlooker described the hairdo as “awesome—for a serial killer.”
Webb Parsons, 29, has a sense of humor to go with his bold and scrappy nature. In his hometown of Canberra, Australia, he held the highest school suspension rate for offenses ranging from dropping his pants to squirting the principal with a fire extinguisher. His sophomore year, Chris was expelled for setting off two chlorine bombs at Canberra High.
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“I was a real shit,” he admits. “I was always causing trouble.”
He started climbing that same year, at age 15, pulling his first moves at a “terrible” little local gym. “I don’t want to say climbing ‘saved’ me, you know?” he says. “But it was something I could really throw my energy into.”
By 2004, at age 19, the young gun became the first Australian to climb grade 34 (5.14c). It took 10 years for White Ladder, a short but desperately powerful climb on the overhanging sandstone of Nowra, Australia, to be repeated.
Two years later, also at Nowra, “CWP” became the first Australian to boulder V14, on Worm, an eight-move V12/V13 traverse into an “all-out V9 double dyno” that the Austrian and German powerhouses Klem Loskot and Toni Lamprecht had previously tried without success. In 2010, Webb Parsons established Believe in Two (V15) in Magic Wood, Switzerland.
Webb Parsons’ preferred style is anything steep that is peppered with tiny incut crimps. He has put up many of Australia’s hardest routes and climbed five V15s around the world while working full-time—sometimes for months at a stretch—as a rope-access technician, with stints on oil rigs and power stations in Australia, China and Trinidad.
In person, Webb Parsons is warm, open and strongly loyal. Growing up, he got into fights with kids who made derogatory remarks about gay people; Chris’s mother came out when being gay wasn’t socially accepted. From those days, he has been free-minded and believed people can do what they want.
Q&A and with Chris Webb Parsons
Can you describe your most recent work on the oil rigs?
In Trinidad, I was a safety supervisor, setting up ropes for the newer rope technicians who were testing corrosion on pipes and thicknesses of metal. The living conditions on the rig were not amazing. There’s eight guys to one bedroom, one toilet, one shower. Sleeping, my feet were almost touching the other guy’s head.
Was it hard to train?
Actually, it was pretty good for training, because there’s nothing else to do out there. I just locked myself in the gym any spare moment I had. I took a little portable hangboard, which a lot of the guys were really fascinated about. At the start it was a bit daunting—burly dudes lifting heavy weights, and I’m in this corner, the only white guy on the rig, hanging from a piece of wood. People think you’re a little bit crazy, you know? But the guys were really intrigued and would have a go and see if they could hang onto the holds. By the second month [second block in a two-weeks on/off schedule], I got to know people.
How do the two worlds of work and climbing compare?
Totally unrelated. Because you’re away for two to three weeks on, two weeks off, it’s really hard to maintain a normal lifestyle. But the upside is that the money’s pretty good. I’ve always worked. Climbing just doesn’t pay that well. Actually, in Australia, it doesn’t pay at all. Sponsorship comes from overseas companies. I’ve just signed with Edelrid this year, but other than that, everything’s been off my own bat. And I still can’t totally live off that, you know? Part of me wants to throw everything into climbing, but I’m concerned for my future as well. It’s always been a real wrestle for me.
Six of the V14s you’ve climbed, you did in a day. You seem to do a lot of things quickly.
Some days I feel stronger than ever. Like, unbeatable. Other days, I feel really average. It’s like I’ve got … What’s that disease where you get tired? [Laughs] But then I’ll have one freak day when I feel crazy, crazy strong. I can’t put it down to anything, but I’d love to nail that day in a World Cup.
You didn’t do the World Cups this year. What’s next on your radar?
At this stage, I’m just really enjoying settling back in Australia and catching up with family. This year I’m staying low for a bit; it was a pretty rocky year last year [breaking up with his girlfriend of five years]. I’m in a really happy relationship now. Later this year I’m off to do some trekking in Nepal and Pakistan.
Yeah, and exploring and checking out some boulders.
What’s your attitude toward life?
I wanna say good things. But life is full of so many ups and downs, you know? I’m a really passionate person. When I get psyched on something, or take an interest in something, I throw myself into it.
Sent five V15s: Wheel of Life (Grampians, Australia); Believe in Two (Magic Wood, Switzerland); Belly of the Beast (Raven Tor, U.K.); Desperanza (Hueco Tanks); Progressive Aggression (Sydney, Australia). Also the routes Pump Up the Staminaband (5.14c), Raven Tor, U.K.; Morpheus (5.14b), Nassereith, Austria; Mechanical Animals (5.14b) and Der Kietzlig Hund (5.14b), Blue Mountains, Australia.
Third place at Arco Rock Master Festival, Italy, 2013.
FAs of White Ladder (5.14c), Stranger on the Shore (5.14b), and Hats and Hoods (5.14b), Nowra, Australia; Motor Pussy (5.14c) and Anal Palm (5.14b), Blue Mountains, Australia.