Old climber

Old Climber

I started climbing in the Spring of 2012 at the relatively late age of 46. Since then, for nearly 3 years I have been climbing 2–3x/week, exploring Colorado crags along Clear Creek, Eldorado Canyon, Shelf Road, and Devil’s Head. My vacations are now centered around climbing, with a jaunt to Smith Rock in Oregon, and now planning trips to Red Rock, Nevada and a climbing trip in Spain sometime in 2015.

I’m 48 now, closing in on 49, and I feel time escaping through the closing window of opportunity. I want to be like that climber Francisco “Novato” Marin climbing 5.14 at age 61. So, 12 years more?

I should be so lucky.


I climb as hard as I can, and when I see someone crush a problem that takes me 4 tries to get, I remind myself that I’ve only been climbing two and a half years, and that other person is half my age with more years on the rock than me.

But I progress.

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Eldorado Canyon
 Over the weekend, I followed my buddy Mark, a guy just a few years younger than me, but with over 15 years of climbing experience. He led a couple of trad routes on Wind Tower in Eldorado Canyon. He placed gear and then top belayed me while I followed and removed his pro. We did the first pitch of Wind Ridge as well as Calypso. Of course, we had to wait on the conga line that is Eldo, waiting as the parties moved up past the first pitch before starting up.

That day, we counted four people free soloing. Four! I guess it’s either a “thing” in Eldo to solo, or else Honnold is inspiring others to give it a go. Most of the guys looked older, around the fifties it seemed to me. Must have come from the older climber tradition of going ropeless.

Now, I get scolded the few times I am not wearing a helmet.

Growing Old is not for Sissies 2, Available on Amazon

I knock on flakes to hear the sound of the drum, grasp delicately and step lightly to leave the flake with some strength to hold the next party.

Calypso was gratifying with it’s delicate feet, flake sidepull and undercling traverse along the rainbow curve. Over too soon. I see Mark’s helmet as I rise over the hump.

He tries to facetime his Brazilian wife to scare her and his mother-in-law 100′ off the deck, but only succeeds in connecting with his parents. I hear a lot of laughter.

Marco facetiming

Lookout Mountain Crag
 I typically take a rest day between climbs, but felt well enough to organize another outing the following day on Sunday. What started out as three climbers turns into seven. Luckily, Erika brought an extra rope. Lookout Mountain crag is mostly top roped, with anchors at a cliff edge that you toss ropes over. I teach Erika how to rappel, sticking a prusik behind her hand as a backup. She sails down saying, ‘That’s it? That’s all there is to rappelling?’ I say, ‘Yup, that’s all there is to it.’

The group of 5 women (Cheryl, Erika, Terra, Dee, and Jess) and two dudes (Jason and I) proceed to start on the right, and make our way leftward.

Funny, the last time I was here, I really didn’t enjoy myself. I hit this crag for the second time last summer, trying to pull a roof I failed on the first time. I was also coming off a 15 foot whipper on one of the 5.10 slabs at the Canal Zone, so slabs were not my fav at the moment. It was one of those moments where I tried the roof and failed, and told myself that I didn’t care if I ever came back to this crag again, no desire to MTFU and crank that roof.

But this time was different.

Maybe it was the group of jokesters I was with. Encouragement like: ‘Crush the savage gnar, dude!’ in mock dude-speak — from Jess. ‘Parkour!’ — like that meant anything, harhar!

I amuse myself.

I feel responsible for this group. I want them to be safe, to have a swell time, to get lots of pictures of them looking heroic, doing heroic things. I get to the top of the route, and take shots from above with my iPhone:


…because everyone takes the classic “butt shot” in photos. I took shots from above because I wanted these guys to look like the rockstars they were.

I confront the roof that I had failed previously on:

Me at the roof, 2012

This time, it wasn’t a problem:

Roof success

I don’t have any pics of the up and over, but here’s one that I like:

Crack addict

Funny how time and additional experience makes the experience so different now. The roof seemed doable now, even somewhat easy. I look back and realized the first time I confronted the roof it was maybe my second or third time rock climbing, and both physically and mentally I couldn’t do it. Didn’t have the multitool of skills, strength and determination on hand to launch me up and over. The second time I was physically able, but the failure of the first try haunted me and I mentally couldn’t do it. This time, nearly two-and-a-half years after my first attempt — I do it, and fairly easily.

Drunk on my success, I take a stab at the next roof over: “Into the Void”. It’s a grade lower at 5.9, but looks harder than the other roof. I feel jugs and edges I couldn’t feel or see earlier. I pull up, and my feet hang in the air, but I don’t let go. I hang on my arms, core pulling my feet to their edges, and straighten up. Then slopers and crimps to the top. It’s hard but doesn’t seem like the impossibility it once was. I feel my progression, and even though the ratings of 5.9 and 5.10 may be sniffed at by the hard bodied godlings of rock, it’s my pinnacle and my sense of accomplishment, and my ticking of progression at my stage. My late stage in the game.

Hemingway said something like: there’s only two sports in the world, bullfighting and climbing. Everything else is just a game. I understand what he means now: the risk makes it all so very different than the ball “sports”. It’s all managed risk, and safety checks — but also guys in their 50’s climbing sans rope, sans helmet, whistling as they pass. It’s the possible consequence of the bloodsport, and the mental and physical grit to get past the bull safely, separated by a skin of red cloth, or in our case: a 9.4mm rope. I track the time and my progress on stone walls, feeling the time pass before my eyes, willing myself to be young again.


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Originally published at gripandclip.com on November 11, 2014.