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Dr. Piton Interviewed by Gripped Magazine

Submitted by passthepitonspete on 2003-03-09

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"The reason I solo is because I can.
Or is it that nobody wants to climb with me?"

By Sam Sacks

Two things stand out when you meet Peter Zabrok. The first is that he's goofy in a snaggle-toothed, big-grinned, trying-to-please sort of way. The second is that he's much smarter than the pages and pages of website propaganda he's written about himself would lead you to believe.

Still suntanned from his twenty-first ascent and sixth solo up El Cap, Zabrok's butchered climber's hands peek out incongruously from a navy blue suit. His hair is conservatively parted to the side and his tie is neatly knotted, but there is something about Zabrok, and perhaps it is the stuffed animal attached by a carabiner to his briefcase that leaves you wondering if the tie might be a clip-on. Just days away from haul bags, hooks and hundreds of metres of air, Zabrok is back at his day job as an insurance salesman in Oakville, Ontario. And the toy? A lucky charm he hauls up all of his routes named Pee Wee [sic] the Big Wall Crab.

At age 43, Zabrok has aided many of Yosemite's walls with younger hardmen like Chris Geisler and Sean Easton. His resume includes such high-end lines as Reticent Wall (A5 5.8), Jolly Roger (A5 5.10) and Native Son (A4+ 5.9). He has summitted El Cap 21 times by 21 different routes, most recently sending Lunar Eclipse (A4 5.7) and Scorched Earth (A4+ 5.9). But he has also ranted and raved about his career, bolting and an acrimonious divorce, on-line and in print, generating criticism for his brash tirades that has often overshadowed his impressive resume.

Round Table Photo which appeared in Gripped Magazine

"Pass the Pitons" Pete pours another cup of joe at the Round Table - Excalibur - El Capitan

"I have a theory," says Zabrok. "If you are bitchin', you will have detractors. The hidden message here is that I have so many detractors I could be bitchin'. Or I could be a real jerk. Correlation does not necessarily imply causality."

Zabrok grew up in Hamilton and hammered out many of the province's best-loved lines alongside local legends John Kaandorp and Chas Yonge. His career began in 1979 but the bulk of his resume has been completed in what he refers to as his "free climbing retirement," or the years after his divorce, which appears to have been precipitated entirely by his love of climbing.

One of Zabrok's most controversial invectives involved a scathing attack on the first ascensionist who bolted Moby Fly, a short wall at the Niagara Escarpment's Cow Crag which Zabrok wrongly believed had been climbed clean by Dave Lanman. The bout turned into a longstanding feud between sport and trad climbers in the area. Today, with almost 20 years of hindsight, Zabrok is his usual barrel of contradictions, quick to admit his error and just as quick to pounce on the bolting malaise:

"There was nothing I could do to make up my wrong to the guy and he let me off the hook. Praise God and hallelujah," he says, wiping his brow. And then a moment later, he says, "I believe bolts to be cheating. I believe that the indiscriminate use of bolts can be indicative of cowardice. I believe that if you can't climb a route from the ground up you should leave it to someone with balls."

Despite the verbal attacks and the fact that during our two-hour conversation he calls three women including this interviewer, "hon," there is something charming at work in Peter Zabrok. In addition to his prolific caving and climbing exploits, Zabrok has a dubious alter ego named Dr. Piton, a derivative of his Valley nickname, "Pass the Pitons Pete." Dr. Piton, who Zabrok refers to in the third person, is a self-appointed wall doctor who offers advice on big wall climbing on and off-line in exchange for "help" in the form of novices who haul his bags to the base of routes. Much of this know-how comes from a book Zabrok edited by his infamous mentor, Chongo (Charles V. Tucker) who has written a 600-page tome entitled "Chongo's Complete Book of Big Wall Climbing."

"Dr. Piton writes cutting-edge big wall technology which has never been published elsewhere," says Zabrok. "There is a big vacuum in big wall and aid climbing information and Dr. Piton's fundamentals help more people get to the summit than ever before. When I got to Camp 5 this spring, there were five people waiting with empty bags to carry my stuff to the base. I used to have to pay people to do that."

Zabrok may be a guru to some, but he's quick to acknowledge his reputation for sloth. His big wall haul bag includes a ghetto blaster on which he cranks AC/DC, a solar-powered shower, a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet, and several cans of Guinness. He tries to avoid sending more than one pitch in a day and no trip is complete without his coffee press. "One of my goals is to achieve new levels of big wall leisure," says Zabrok.

But how does Zabrok justify nailing a big wall crack or riveting when he won't clip a bolt? "That's actually a good paradox," says Zabrok. "What am I doing clipping bolts on big walls or placing copperheads or pins - don't those scar the rock? Yeah, but you haven't drilled anything."

Zabrok makes the First Ascent of Resplendence in 1982

Zabrok makes the first ascent of Resplendence at Old Baldy in 1982

On the recent retrobolting of a Zabrok route named Resplendence the eponymous Peter has this to say: "It is a sad comment on the state of affairs of Ontario climbing that somebody would simply walk up and bolt something without giving it a second thought." The bolts have since been removed but were they filled to Zabrok's specifications with epoxy and rock dust? "I don't know," says Zabrok, "I'm far too lazy to go find out."

Sam Sacks is a climber and writer who lives in Toronto.

This article was reproduced for with the express written consent of the author Samantha Sacks of Gripped Magazine. It appeared in the December/January 2003 issue.

Dr. Piton highly recommends you check out the website for Gripped Magazine, which is Its discussion board is ETS!


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