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Reaching for the top

Tom Winter

The first problem was my sweat. It was slippery and slimy. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except for it made it hard to grip onto the rock. And, I needed to grip. My legs were shaking. And they wouldn’t stop, the darned things, which meant that my feet kept slipping off the tiny ledge that I was attempting to stand on. So, I sweated and gripped at the rock harder, and then sweated some more for good measure.No one will know who was the first person to climb up a cliff. But, there can be no doubt that mountains and rocks and other high places have gripped the imagination of generations. Climbing’s rootsClimbing is one of the oldest sports known to man. The Anasazi Indians of the Rocky Mountain West were early adherents to the art, building their homes and granaries high upon the red sandstone cliffs that are ubiquitous throughout the high desert of the Four Corners area.But while climbing came to the Anasazi naturally, it was up to the Europeans to turn climbing into the sport that it is today. The first climbers focused on peaks, and rock climbing was merely another tool in the mountaineer’s trade.

A necessary skill along other techniques such as ice climbing and glacier travel, which allowed early enthusiasts to bag the high peaks of the Alps. Of course, the most famous of these climbs is Switzerland’s Matterhorn. The last of Europe’s major peaks to succumb, it was deemed impossible until that late 1800s, when an Englishman Edward Whymper was the first to bag the peak in 1865. Whymper’s summit assault, which was energized by rumors of an imminent attempt by a competing Italian party, resulted in success, but only at the cost of four climbers’ lives, who were killed in a fall on the descent when their rope broke.The tragedy and the media frenzy that followed Whymper’s pioneering climb of the Matterhorn fueled public enthusiasm and gave birth to mountaineering and climbing as a tourist industry.Spreading to AmericaIn North America, the fires were fanned by John Muir’s ascent of Cathedral Peak in 1869. By the time of World War I, climbers were taking to the hills in increasing numbers and the sport was starting to develop. By 1902, The American Alpine Club was founded, with the mission of promoting mountaineering, climbing, adventure, scientific research and education. Since then, climbers haven’t looked back.Today, of course, the early mountaineering style of climbing: attacking big peaks with pitons and hemp ropes has fractured into a myriad of techniques. There’s traditional climbing and sport climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering, all pitting puny people against the hard cold rock, ice and snow of our planet.

The game is the sameBut regardless of the style, the end game remains the same: to get to the top.But today, as I scrabble for a purchase against the rock, I’m really not too concerned with the rich tradition of the sport. I just want to get my butt to the top. My feet finally find a purchase, and I lunge for a hold. I make it and the move leads to another and another. And, although I’m still sweating, I’m beginning to start to gain confidence with each foot gained. Before I know it, I pull myself up over the lip of the cliff and sit in the dust, panting and wet from the exertion, but strangely satisfied. It’s not the Matterhorn, but I don’t care. For this one moment, I’m the king of the mountain, and I feel great.Just The FactsClimbing in Eagle County:



Wolcott Boulders is located at the BLM campground on US Highway 6. Located at a campground and boat launch on the north side of Highway 6, the Wolcott Boulders consist of several large boulders that offer a couple of good problems. A good option for beginners or those without much gear or training.Trestle Rock is located above Eagle River and features a variety of routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12. To approach the cliff, park at a small lot on the north side of Highway 6 and hike across the train trestle. For more info, check out http://www.eagle-county.com/lifestyle/recreation/rockClimbing.cfmGuide companies and lessonsParagon Guides: (970) 926-5299, http://www.paragonguides.com/climbing.htmVail Rock and Ice Guides: (970)471-1173, http://www.vailrockandice.com


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