At the gym I see another old climber on the stationary bike, sit next to him and begin pedaling. What have you been doing? I ask.
Eating, he says. He’s pedaling hard.
I haven’t seen him since early winter when we spent a day skiing over Hatcher Pass on about three inches of snow. We had a slow start to the winter that’s just now winding down in late April. We begin talking about the recent American Alpine Club meeting, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American ascents of Everest. These guys are mostly in their 80s now. The leader, Norman Dyhrenfurth, is 94. This reminds Old Climber Number 1 to make a little speech about the pussification of American climbing.
So, he says, these AAC climbing grants. What a joke.
They gave one to these guys to do a route on Deborah (a remote peak in the AK Range) and they didn’t get anywhere near the climb. I’m not sure they left the spot where the plane dropped them off. You know why?
I shake my head.
Guess, he says, just guess.
Don’t tell me, I say, too cold?
TOO COLD!! He laughs maniacally and I join him. Of course, it’s too cold. It’s always too cold up here. Ridiculous, he says. Too cold, shaking his head
OC1 has climbed Denali in winter. A life-long Alaskan, as teenagers he and his pals routinely camped in winter conditions that would be major expeditions for outsiders.
I remind him that the AAC isn’t just for elite climbers anymore. He had forgotten about that. Okay, he says, I guess we should just hand out money randomly for average folks’ bouldering tick lists.
OC1 says he was invited to the Ruth (a glacier in the AK Range, where all the climbing is hard and dangerous) What am I going to do there? Sit in a tent and drink?
There’s nothing to do. It’s either the south face of Dickey (a 5,000 foot rock climb in arctic conditions) or nothing. Indeed, my only trip to the Ruth the snow conditions were so sugary that we ended up just skiing around. Great trip, actually.
Anyway I’ve already spent two months up there, he adds.
I’m not sure what he’s driving at. I think he’s finding compromise . . . difficult.
He tells me about the backcountry skiing he’s gotten in this season—a considerable amount. I tell him that most of my time was spent on the Nordic trails. I don’t mention my disastrous season racing slalom in the Town League down at Alyeska. Then I remember that I skied Arctic to Indian, a long 23 mile point-to-point day. That’s something, he said. Something, in OC1’s book, is actually . . . something.
Yeah, I said, but it kicked my ass.
It’s supposed to, he said.
I tell him that most of the time I’m on the wrong skis. Plus, I never have the right stuff in my pack. I should have had a stove, an extra pair of socks and a huge pair of mittens.
You didn’t need that stuff.
I should have had it.
But you didn’t need it, did you?
I might have needed it.
We talk about other climbers, our age, their lecturing about climbing to some star-struck young climbers. Same old stories, nothing new. It’s embarrassing, he says.
They were telling those stories twenty years ago.
What are we supposed to do? I said. I am thinking about privation, exhaustion, frozen digits: not all that appealing to me, now.
I know what he means—our best days in the mountains are undoubtedly behind us, and it’s hard to reconcile oneself to that. Further, who wants to hear it? Ancient history. Move along people, nothing to see here.
We agree to do some long road rides when it warms up.