//“If you are getting better as a skier as you get older, you weren’t very good when you were young.”
Quote from a Warren Miller skiing movie
I started skiing at age 37, so I never worried about my skiing ability as a youth.
On the other hand, I started rock climbing at age 21, so …. by implication, I condemn my youthful abilities as a “rock jock” by admitting that I am “climbing better than ever” - at age 66.
Sadly, this is so. Or, is this not sad after all?
“My Climbs with Andre” (apologies to the deeply philosophical movie “My Dinner with Andre”) at Courtright Reservoir let me reflect upon this Zen koan of half-empty versus half-full glasses. I come down on the side of “half full.”
Over six days Moose (Andre Citkowicz) and I climbed in this splendid paradise of granite domes and high Sierra Ponderosa and Sequoia forest lands. I surprised myself and Moose.
Our ascent of Crooked Neck on Penstemon Dome proved highly entertaining. The clever entry traverse ledge to the “Walk the Plank” tree - a Ponderosa growing horizontally away from the wall, offering stupendous exposure to anyone who ever “climbs” (“walks”) this tree. No one ever need try this stunt, though someone, sometime will. A delightful and unique feature. When I led the third pitch, Moose lead me to believer I faced a “long” pitch to the two-bolt fixed anchor marking the end of this route, far below the dome’s summit. So I began to wonder “where is the anchor” with growing apprehension as I ran out of rope on Moose 80 meter lead rope.
“How much rope?” I yelled down.
“Twenty feet.” I’d found no good protection for the last 50 feet, so decided to end the pitch when I finally found three good placements at rope’s near end.
When following and still a good 80 feet below me, Moose again questioned my intelligence and eyesight when he pronounced, “The anchor’s here.”
Thus, we resolved to complete the climb to the Dome’s summit, and retreated by adding a third rappel from a Ponderosa Pine tree, to the two fixed anchors. (Which require two 60 meter ropes).
Next day, Moose decided we were ready to “go big” and set our sights on “A Little Nukey” on the west side of Power Dome.
Somehow, we turned the approach to this climb into an extended route finding affair. Four hours after leaving our camp on the east side of the reservoir - from which the west side profile of Power Dome is clearly visible and close-by - we reached the base of “A Little Nukey.”
But still we were confused.
My confusion had a simple explanation. Looking up, the route looked impossible! A steep wilderness of smooth granite with nary more than a water pocket ripple as a feature offering climbing holds. Yikes.
Moose proposed I take the first lead - since the second was advertised as harder.
My first try I couldn’t even get started. I decided to get serious and tighten my shoes as tight as possible. My shoes? A 17-year old pair of Hot Chilis with decaying rand rubber and a loose fit.
I’d done myself in again. Underestimating the difficulties; overestimating my abilities. I faced a hard fight to avoid ignominious failure at the first bolt.
Somehow, I pulled through. And therein lies my best explanation why I’m climbing better in my old age than as a youth.
Now I realize each climb is “now or never.” And I realize at 66 years of age I’ve already had a fantastic life, so death and injury are not so consequential. Neither can cheat me now of a full life. I’ve already got that in the bag. To get the true remaining prizes on life’s table, I now need to dig deeper, fear less, and focus more. Today I feel more serene, focused and secure while climbing than I did in my twenties and thirties. Practicing yoga the last six years and Transcendental Mediation the last 48, giving up all alcohol the last nine years and exercising vigorously virtually every day all have helped.
I was overjoyed as 160 feet of the most sustained face climbing of my career came to an end at the fixed anchors. I reveled in the view downward to Moose. The lead impressed me and I’d just done it!
Ratings be damned. I’ve done “easier” 5.10a face climbs than this supposed “5.8.”
Moose lead the second and fourth pitches, brilliantly. He sent to out to surmount “The Shield”, bypassing it on the right, for the third lead. His good intentions notwithstanding, he told me I’d gone too far just as I nearly reached the two-bolt anchor (which is the prescribed end of said pitch). Dutifully, I down climbed back to The Shield and set up a gear belay. After all, I am the private and Moose is the general is our team. How can I disobey even when the General is wrong?
By the final pitch, my big toe and the inner ball of both feet were screaming bloody murder in pain from the incessant pressure of climbing on small pockets with nary a single positive foot and finger hold to be found. My sloppy, dry rubber shoes were taking a toll, extracted in pain. The final pitch yielded for Moose ingenious tri-cam placements in water pockets. A unique and cool feature often found on Courtright Domes. Moose’s last tri-cam before the bolt anchor left me, as the second, facing a 30 foot pendulum fall if I should come off. I did. I saw it coming and calculated my “best bet” was to run across the wall to stay in some semblance of control of the long pendulum.
It worked for a while - until 9.8 meters/second2 of acceleration (to wit: the force of gravity) required “running/falling” at a cadence beyond my 66 years. My final foot placement caused the lower half of my body to “stick” on while the top half kept accelerating up at 9.8 meters/second2 - resulting in a giant cartwheel, ending with my right hip smashing into the wall once I reached a plum line below my belayer. It hurt, but no damage done. Fortunately, the rock directly above was climbable.
In spite of our four-hour approach we topped out with the plenty of sunshine and a pleasant evening ahead of us. Exhausted and delighted, I could hardly believe how quickly and efficiently we’d ascended this smooth dome. Wow! Being 66 isn’t so bad after all. So long as I keep getting a “little nukey” - on the rock and elsewhere.
Over the next five days, “More Climbs with Andre” only solidified a partnership well on its way to many happy returns.
Cross Reference to Moose's Photo Trip Report: