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A Sport for All Ages

29-Jun-2010
By

At this the most lovely old man got up at the furthest and humblest end of the hall, as he had got up on all similar occasions for the past half-century. He was no less than eighty-five years of age, almost blind, almost deaf, but still able and willing and happy to quaver out the same song which he had sung for the pleasure of the Forest Sauvage since before Sir Ector was bound up in a kind of tight linen puttee in his cradle. They could not hear him at the high table ... but everybody knew what the cracked voice was singing, and everybody loved it.
T.H. White, The Once and Future King

 

I read the above passage at age 21, in a cave in Chamonix, in weather. Three friends and I had ripped my paperback copy into hunks to pass around. I still remember being struck by the sheer, sweet affirmativeness of the image of the old man in White's ideal world.

One of the things I marvel at in our sport is its reach and inclusiveness. It is, now more than ever, a sport for the ages - all ages. I climb with friends in their 60s, in their 20s (and even one teen), and everywhere between.

Climbers in their 70s and 80s, people who are extremely accomplished in various realms, still volunteer heavily in our community because they care so much.

Of course I love the energy and athleticism of youth. I go see comps whenever possible, at the Outdoor Retailer trade show or just the local high school in my town: to watch the contenders give their all; to see the moves and hear the music. Or for moments such as seeing Ethan Pringle, who had finished his turn, jump up from his ringside repose to brush the holds off for Chris Sharma. Pringle eventually won that nights event. Sharma was his competitor.

Everyone's looking for youth participation: people in civic associations, on your library or filmfest or symphony board, in climbing organizations. The young climbers of today are our community and institutional future.

This year's annual meeting of the American Alpine Club, in Bend, Ore-gon, contained a rich and welcome shot of youth. Have you ever talked to Chris Lindner, Josh Wharton, Kate Rutherford, Freddie Wilkinson? These are thoughtful, interesting people; deep waters. At the Saturday-night banquet, where for a few hours all are under one roof, attendees stretched from Ben Mace, age 8, to the revered Royal Robbins, 80, and beyond.

In the year 2000, a party in Yosemite celebrated the induction of Camp 4 to the National Register of Historic Places. The C4 party was hosted by Tom Frost and the AAC, and attended by locals and activists from every era, as well as many park rangers. One speaker after another took the outdoor-amphitheatre stage to recall times in C4. People sat on the hard benches for five hours; I remember the young Jason Singer Smith and friends in a front row, calmly sticking it out. As Dick Duane said later, There was a sense that we would never be all together again.

And we weren't. Two months later, Chuck Pratt died. Warren Harding died. R.D. Caughron, who at a campfire that night laughed so hard his folding chair fell over backwards, went out on the heights of Makalu. Jose Pereyra, a comedic star of the evening, was killed by rockfall in El Potrero. Galen and Barbara Rowell were taken in a plane crash. David Brower passed.

Death is the culmination of all lives and an ever-present aspect of a sport we all love, so connections can be fleeting privilege. I can't count the times I've thought back and appreciated a community gathering because the last time I saw someone Catherine Freer, Mugs Stump, Alex Lowe was at an AAC meeting, an Outdoor Retailer trade show, an Access Fund Rendezvous. At an International Climbers Festival, Todd Skinner walked into the town park carrying his baby daughter, alongside his father, Bob. I once saw a slideshow by Ad Carter about his, Pete Schoening and friends' near ascent and noble, tragic descent on K2 in 1953, one of the greatest climbing tales ever told. That chance won't come again.

We are a community that shares history and intense interpersonal and physical experience. We're lucky that our leaders and standouts are accessible; we have places, or gatherings, where we can meet a Chris Sharma or a Royal Robbins. He and Liz Robbins are said to have had a synergy much like the inspiring supportiveness between Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell, keynote speakers at the AAC meeting, who opened their show by saying they felt overwhelmed to be speaking to all our heroes.

This issue of Rock and Ice celebrates young climbers. They are stepping up in so many ways: young alpinists combining expeditions and conservation or humanitarian work; young women and men teaching and belaying at the HERA Climb for Life events; Ben Schmitt, 18, gaining a $1,000 grant from USA Climbing to teach disabled people to climb. We see teenage girls such as Andrea Szekely climbing 5.14. Colin Haley at 22 has collected nine summits in the Fitz Roy region.

In a heartening parallel to a legendary court, the youth at the banquet seem psyched to meet their forebears, and the elders are pleased as punch to see or sing for them.

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