I’ve oft heard Jim Donini recite this humorous advice to us old guys:
Never trust a fart;
Never pass a restroom without using it;
If you get a hard-on, use it! - for it may be your last.
In like vein, us old guys who hang out at Supertopo are always wondering: Do I still have what it takes to climb?
The question remorselessly gains ever greater legitimacy with each passing year.
Supertopo is notoriously rife with geriatric climbers asking themselves the “do-I-still-have-it?” question. It’s inspired numerous Climber’s forum threads, asking about injury, recovery, aging. Like the recent gem: “At 60.”
So each time I realize that I am now 65 years old, the horror sets in.
In my youth, I never thought someone 65 years old could possibly be any good at anything - especially the most desirable provinces of youth like heavy lifting, sex or climbing. The examples of my own grandparents, parents, uncles and aunt, school teachers etc. did nothing to combat my demeaning expectations for the “senior citizen” that I have now become. As an old friend told me: “Inside every old person is a young person saying, ‘What happened?’”
So, how long can I continue with this madness of rock climbing at anything like an “acceptable,” “respectable” grade of difficulty?
Teaming up with our beloved Moosedrool for “some climbing” put this question to the test. Moose accepted my offer for a climbing rendezvous with obvious reservations. Two years lapsed from our first meeting at the City of Rocks Supertopo gathering where I suggested we climb. I pestered him a few times, until finally he emailed an invitation with an important proviso: “I will be in Minden 6-10th Oct. On Oct. 8th I will be climbing for RIP Kenny, my mentor that passed away a month ago. I'd like to go with you climbing in my neighborhood. Yer leading. Moooooooose (hehehe).”
Mark and Spark joined us for Kenny Thompson’s memorial at Woodford Canyon. We repeated four lines put up by Kenny. A few inconsequential pictures capture the action.
The politics of the upcoming election became an unavoidable topic for conversation after a fine take-out dinner of Sushi at Moose’s Minden home. We knew from our Supertopo postings we completely agreed upon “The Donald.”
Our question became: “How can anyone possible vote for him at all?”
After reading a fair amount of history about World War II authored by Winston Churchill, I’ve adopted his point of view about “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” To wit: NO ONE has any right to criticize after-the-fact UNLESS they made their own position clear IN WRITING at the point in time when the actual decision-makers had to decide what to do.
Thus, I saw fit to put in writing my completely optimistic view that The Donald will receive the epic and historic drubbing he deserves once the voters decide. I posted my opinion on the “When TRUMP Wins…” Supertopo thread on September 28 (way before before the emergence of video recording’s of His Donaldnest’s outrageous sexual boasting.)
I asked Moose to read my posting, http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=2853598&msg=2879756#msg2879756. which I quote
“Trump will not win.
I guarantee it.
For proof, I offer this stunning editorial endorsement of Clinton by a newspaper that has NEVER endorsed a Democrat for President since its founding in the Nineteenth Century.
This endorsement is a devastating indictment of Trump and an even, fair, calm appraisal of Clinton's strengths and weaknesses and the Arizona Republic makes clear the only rational conclusion is Clinton for President. And this in a State some people think might go for Trump.
I say he will loss every single state and every electoral vote. When both the New York Times and the Arizona Republic completely agree on something this fundamental, there is only one possible outcome a mere six weeks from now. Trump will go down in infamy as a laughingstock, the epitome of utter defeat.
How many people are willing to state this level of confidence in the outcome?
Time for you to post up!
P.S. But wait there is more. The Cincinnati Enquirer has never endorsed a Democrat for President - until now.
"The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century – a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.
That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton.’"
Since my posting left him no room for one-upmanship on the optimistic side, he took a Polishly-perverse, opposing view.
“I’ll bet you $10 The Donald will win the election. And I want to lose this bet!”
I accepted. To show what a nice guy I am, I’ll accept (up to November 7) a concessionary $5 payment prior to the election to release Moose from his foolish $10 wager.
I don’t lightly call His Mooseness “Polishly perverse.” Later in the evening, he told me that as a bored conscript in the Polish Army back in the day, he and his buddies opened beer bottles with their teeth and then chew up (and swallowed the shards) of their glass bottles!
So, never dare this Moose to do anything!
In fact, the eating-glass-for-fun anecdote works well to explain the Moose family success in America. He and his wife wished for years to leave Poland. Their chance arrived when wife won the visa lottery used to allocate the too-few visas amongst the way-too-many applicants in 1993. Arriving in the U.S. as husband, wife and two teenage children with $3,000 in savings, the family parlayed their work, determination, intelligence and skills to make a good life in America. Today, Moose is enjoying a happy and adventurous retirement; wife loves her works as a chemist so much she delays her retirement indefinitely; the kids are educated, launched and independent and have blessed Mr. and Mrs. Moose with three grandchildren. As I write this, Moose, wife, daughter are climbing in Moab with the most interesting man in the world - Jim Donini et ux. Angela - the most understanding woman in the world. Moose is the Man!
Back to tale. Nest day we climbed at the Phantom Spires.
I proposed we climb the beautiful and aesthetic crack forming pitch 1 of the “Regular Route” of Central Spire.
Moose outsmarted me by actually reading the guidebook. He volunteered to lead gorgeous splitter crack if I’d take the unseen and out of view squeeze chimney second pitch. Foolishly I agreed. After taking a not-completely-controlled slide out of the chimney on my half-hearted first stab at the chimney, I had the answer to the question oft contemplated but rarely seen to conclusion by the leader of a chimney pitch: “What happens if you fall out of this vile off-width man-eater?” Three weeks later, I still nurse large gobbies on both elbows. My second, more-committed effort yielded passage to the top of the spire and earned praise from Moose after the follow.
While farting around top-roping and seeing up raps, etc. I asked Moose if his very dingy looking climbing rope had a mid-mark. "No," he asserted without the least hesitation. Something about the overall dinginess and uniformly grayish black color of his rope inspired my suggestion that we wash the room overnight.
That evening, Moose brushed up my foreign language skills, answering my questions about Polish cusswords. Curiously, the Polish words for the imperative f— off (spierdalaj) and the adjective form (spierdolone), both sound Italian to my ear. Spierdolone rhymes with spumone, for Christ sakes! Where are the glotteral fricatives? or the string of consonants like S-K-G-W? - that an American ignoramus like me ascribes to all words in the Polish and Slavic languages?
We finished the evening scattering Moose's freely washed rope over the living room floor. (He had not known one can machine wash a rope with wash ordinary detergent: What kind of Chemist is this Moose, anyway?). The unveiling revealed an astonishing fact; the dingy rope was in fact a bicolor, bright yellow and orange rope. Now the whole truth emerged. "I didn't know it had a mid mark! Brokendown climber gave me the rope," Mr. Moose admitted. "Wow Terry, thanks for giving me a new rope." For indeed it was as good as new.
Day three Moose and I teamed up with FlipFlop for a local’s guided tour of Donner’s Summit. The derivation of Flipflop's Supertopo avatar compelled me to ask. "How'd you get your nickname?" Turns out Flipflop had served on the Yosemite Search and Rescue team during his life phase as consummate climbing bum. Team member's nicknames usually had a scatological derivation. What a "Flipflop" BM looks like must leave the hearer free to decide as this doesn't seem to describe any of my stool specimens, so who knows what image this conjures up in others' minds.
Moose and I had a blast with Flipflop. A route he purposely directed us toward - “Devaluation” - hinted at its value as a teacher of the lesson of grade subjectivity. Was it so named - and rated merely 5.7 - to assure no one ever “devalued” this route? If so, the first ascender succeeded in spades.
Monday Moose returned to the Bay Area. I stayed, wanting to climb at Lover’s Leap, famous-to-all - but not yet climbed by me.
I arrived mid-afternoon at the simple, tiny and perfectly wonderful Forest Service campground situated just below the Leap’s marvelous granite walls. I strolled out to take a first look and was delighted by the detail of the climb approach using the old Pony Express Route through the Sierra. Undoubtedly the Pony Express had merely glommed itself onto this prime route used by the aboriginals since Man’s arrival in the Western Hemisphere over 10,000 years ago, and most lately used as the U.S. Highway 50.
I viewed a wall with an obvious crack line going from top to bottom and opined surely a climber’s route lay there. So I walked up to the base below a wondrous old pine and sure enough, climbers showed up who’d just completed the route. They described “The Line” in glowing terms and my ideal objective for the next day became fixed in my mind. As for a partner, I found a youth, Royal Magnell, who would deign to climb with me tomorrow IF his female partner failed to show, as promised. I proposed we climb “The Line.” Royal knew the area and the route. His vote of confidence in me as a partner on an ambitious first route at the Leap led him to ask, “Can you do it?” I’d seen the route, so offered a simple “Yes” in reply.
Next morning, I slept in to see if I had a partner or not. Around 10:15 AM, as I finished breakfast in my Lance camper, Royal knocked and allowed since his partner had bailed, “Did you still want to climb?”
At the base, Royal asked first, “Are we going to swing leads.” “Of course,” I answered. Now Royal showed a complete reluctance to state who should take the first lead. He would thrust on the subject, to which I parried three times in three ways, “Royal, you decide; I don’t care.” Sensing a forth lap around the same track would leave us still undecided, I posed a new question. “Ok. I’ll solve this. Tell me how old you are?” “Twenty nine,” he answered. “That settles it. You are younger than me.” (As if that hadn’t been obvious since yesterday!) “You get to go first Royal.”
Royal took a long time to rack up, clipping gear to his belt. I kept silent but wondered about the wasted time of belt clipping gear if we were going to swap leads.
The initial section of pitch 1 appeared tricky to protect in a critical area beginning about 25 feet up and continuing for another 15 feet or so. Royal got to this spot and made a few half-hearted tries, all without placing any gear, before asking, “Do you want to give this a try?”
I agreed. By the time I committed to the aforesaid blank section, I’d placed two small stoppers in cracks somewhat enlarged by piton removal BITD and a creative blue BD cam nestled improbably between two labial lobes.
I found myself repeatedly facing difficult climbing but good protection -provided the leader worked the stance to get comfortable and take the time and effort to fiddle in small pieces. Royal’s rack had ZERO small cams but a large selection of stoppers, so stoppers I used.
Foreshortening effects set in as I climbed the pitch. My vision was acting up too. Chronic inflammation in right eye, after four surgeries in the last two years, was causing blurry vision. * (I’ve been blind since birth in my left eye).
Wishing the blurriness would go away was working just as well as my wishing I felt stronger in my forearms, fingers, shoulders, biceps, triceps, feet - hell everywhere! When I set the anchor for the first pitch, I could see vegetation above me, but couldn’t tell if the vegetation was 30 or 100 feet away, nor whether it sat atop the cliff, or merely at an intermediate band. I hadn’t studied the cliff well enough to rule out either hypothesis.
To be on such a stellar and difficult climb was spectacular, exhilarating, wonderful. I was putting forth an all-out effort to make this climb, but enjoying it, without fear. With age, I do indeed often think, “Today would be a good day to die.” Yes, that was my state of mind; even as my tired and sore body screamed at me, my mind transcended. I felt happy and proud and fully alive. Life is possible at 65. So there! I thought of my ancestors. My father - who spent his life suffering from crippled feet, lousy balance and poor coordination after a bout with polio that he barely survived at age 2; my paternal Grandfather, a heavy smoker, who died of pneumonia at age 57; my maternal Grandfather, a slight man who nonetheless farmed his entire life in central Illinois and died at age 77. I thought they would be proud of me - if they could see me. Emotionally, this thought appealed to me enormously. At the same time, as an atheist, I knew this entire notion was sentimental, illogical, silly human foolishness of the first order. I marveled at the mind’s ability to entertain multiple, contradictory thoughts, all the while I should be focused one-pointedly upon my own survival in the precarious position of a climber halfway up a 400-foot, nearly vertical cliff.
Once back in camp, I asked Royal if I could read the guidebook description of “The Line.” Wow! The Guidebook quoted the other Royal (Robbins) as naming this “one of the 10 best climbs” he’d done “anywhere in the world;” and likewise Paul Piana calling this “The best 5.9” he’d ever done. I second their opinions.
Tired, sore and amazed, my trip was complete. Next day I wandered 500 miles back home in my old pickup truck and Lance camper for a reunion with my love, Judi. I thought about her nearly the whole time. I sit at her desk as I write this, in her home, felling lucky to be alive, happy and still fit at the “old age” of 65. I am no Donini. But maybe I’m as good as chopped Linguini (or I something like that; hey, you know what I mean).
* A minor footnote. My vision problem began on fine June day two years ago as I sat at the base of a climb at City of Rocks. I looked up into a perfectly clear blue sky - but saw something funny, nay inexplicable. So I asked my partner, “Do you see billions - and I mean billions - of gnats flying in the sky?” The disturbing look on their face and silence in the face of my query offered a strong clue: “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Unwilling to miss out on a perfect day for climbing, I said nothing more about my disturbing symptoms until after sunset. Judi instantly recognized my symptoms were serious - probably a detached (or torn) retina, requiring immediately medical attention. So off we drove to Salt Lake City and the land of emergency rooms. The “gnats” I’d seen floating in the sky turned out to be the thousands of blood cells suddenly floating inside my vitreous fluid after the retinal tear.