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“Look Ma, No Hands!” A Rock Climber Scales Cliffs Without Using His Hands

Famous British rock climber Johnny Dawes puts a twist on his sport

(Zero Creatives/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Johnny Dawes—the Stone Monkey, the Leaping Boy, the Dawes—is a living legend in certain niche circles. In the 1980s and 90s, he earned rockstar status in the rock climbing community by making some of the most difficult and dangerous climbs up Britain’s crags, such as “The Indian Face.” Now 50, Dawes has moved on to new ventures: he's still scaling rock faces, but now without the use of his hands.

“It’s a bit like climbing’s like lager or wine, and no-hands is really like a liqueur or sprit,” Dawes says. “It’s a lot stronger coordination medium.”

Watch Dawes in action:

Is Dawes serious about his feats of handless derring-do? Steve Casimiro of the Adventure Journal frames it best:

It is such a preposterous and brilliant idea, and delivered with such British aplomb, that I keep thinking it might be the world’s greatest climbing put-on. Watch it as if it’s totally fake and you’ll find yourself cracking up; watch it as if it’s real and you’ll be nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, Johnny!” It could go either way.

But this isn’t the first time Dawes’ unconventional and buoyant ways have garnered public attention. After he published a memoir, Full of Myself, in 2011, Dawes waxed philosophical on climbing and on life with the Guardian

So, will no-hands climbing take off? “It’s a really good question as to why other people aren’t interested in this,” Dawes says. “It’s not really cool . . . It’s sort of like a stamp collecting club. You know, happy being really boring.”

But those who know Dawes also know that “boring” is by no means a fitting descriptor for the man. And now that other disciplines of climbing are no longer the safe havens for nonconformists that they once were, maybe – just maybe – there’s room for this no-hands thing to fill that void.

The best part about it? “If it’s a cold day, you can wear gloves as well,” Dawes says. 

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