Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Just another number

I try not to think about this too often, but August comes around again every year. 
Five years ago to the day I climbed the Cassin Route on the North East Face of the Piz Badile in Southern Switzerland, one of the classic Alpine climbs made popular by Gaston Rebuffat's book "Starlight and Storm". Modest in difficulty by modern standards, it still requires you to get up around 3000ft of continuously good rock climbing and down again before you're overtaken either by nightfall or one of the frequent thunderstorms that sneak up on the mountain from the hot Italian plain to the south. It was first climbed in the 1930's by the famous Italian mountaineer Riccardo Cassin with three companions (two of whom died in a storm on the descent), but the more interesting fact is that over fifty years after his first ascent, Cassin went back and repeated his climb -  at the age of eighty.

This time last year I was in the Olympic Stadium watching David Rudisha cruising through his 800m heat, but a few weeks later I was off to Italy for the Tor des Geants race. I wandered happily through the Itailian Alps from Sunday morning until Friday evening and was pleased enough to arrive in 270th place out of 631 starters. There were only 6 Brits in the event last year, and the speediest pair were George and Anthony who came in a good 24 hours ahead of me in 64th and 65th places, fine performances. But it was also encouraging to see that just ahead of them in 63rd place was a guy called Raymond Rebischung, winning the "over 60's" category.

Joss Naylor made his round of 70 Lakeland tops, 50 miles and 25,000ft of ascent in 21 hours, when he was 70,  and earlier this summer Gavin Bryan-Jones completed the West Highland Way in 26 hours 15 minutes at a similar age.

But my all-time hero, and forgive me if you've heard this from me before, is still a guy called Ivan Waller. I first became aware of him back in the 70's when he was still climbing, but he is summed up perfectly in a short passage written by Ronald Turnbull many years later, which reads:

Once there was a man called Ivan Waller. In 1931 he climbed behind Colin Kirkus on a seriously overhanging route called Mickledore Grooves in the days when falling off generally meant death, or severe injury if you were really lucky.

What happens to mountaineers as they get older? They just turn into older mountaineers. At the age of 70 Ivan turned to the Munros and climbed 140 of them in two years to become Munroist number 207. Three years later he backpacked across Scotland in the Ultimate Challenge event. Still in his seventies he completed the 45 mile walk of the Lakeland 3000ft peaks in a day, and climbed Tower Ridge in winter conditions without causing the slightest anxiety to my cousin, who was his companion. He also traversed the Cuillin Ridge twice, the second time escorting an older companion. He considered the Corbetts: "This may be beyond my span because I still have more than 160 to do at 81 years of age  -  but a man can try".
I've spent today climbing in the slate quarries above Llanberis, after the wet weekend and Monday probably the fastest-drying rock in the world, so I've had a nice day. Then after a few more days in the hills I'm off to France in a couple of weeks time for the UTMB at the end of the month; life's far from dull.

So thanks for all the birthday wishes. I've changed the number in the panel on the right, but it is, after all, just another number.


Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Andy :-)

Anonymous said...

comment above was Ian

Anonymous said...

Belated greetings from Rog & Ros