Twelve Climbers, Twelve Stories
by Andy Dappen
Once it was my driving outdoor passion. I liked to hike, bike, kayak, and ski, but I lived to climb. Over time family, profession, and other outdoor interests filled my life to the point that the strong hands and tough mental mindset needed for climbing had atrophied. By the time I was middle aged, what I lived for had changed.
Last fall as a recent retiree, I decided to reconnect to climbing. I got a membership at Wenatchee’s Riverfront Rock Gym, thinking the ability to practice quickly and frequently might whip my physical and mental abilities back to those glory years now some 30 years distant.
The venture held big surprises — one of the greatest being how much I enjoyed climbing indoors. While climbing in my youth had been an outdoor experience shared with one partner, the indoor experience proved pleasantly social. Also, my fear that oldsters might feel the condescension of younger, better climbers was unfounded. The young hot shots willingly shared tips and strategies when I asked for their advice. Before long, my forays to the artificial walls were as much about interaction as they were about technique.
Another surprise? The range of different reasons that drew others to the rock gym — everyone seemed to have a unique story. Some were top guns, others just learning; some were married and arrived solo for personal time, others came down with their spouse as a date; some were single and enjoyed pursuing their climbing goals without distraction, others were single and hoping to meet someone with shared passions; some were kids training with the afternoon Youth Team, others were seniors gathering for Geezer Tuesdays. Talk to a dozen people and you’d hear twelve different stories, like the following ones, explaining what drew them to this relatively new facility.
One of the more inspirational stories for young and old alike is that of Jack Bevier. Jack had never climbed until a month before his 85th birthday when a friend brought him down to the Riverfront Rock Gym to try something new. “I don’t buy the argument that you’re too old to take on new things. New challenges keep you growing and keep you excited about life. Heck, I don’t wanna just sit around and die.”
A year-and-a-half later, at the age of 86, Jack is quite a fixture at the gym. He swims three mornings a week, but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays he makes the one-mile walk from his apartment to come climb. “Once here, I stretch, do several easy climbs to limber up, and then work on climbing problems that push me. This has definitely improved my strength, flexibility, and mental toughness. And it’s so much more fun than doing weights or machines. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun since elementary school.”
A considerably younger and slightly stockier friend who often climbs with Jack is Richard Dix, a 63-year old contractor/remodeler. “I came down here with Jack one day to check out the facility after it opened and was impressed. I used to climb at places like the Peshastin Pinnacles in my 20s and doing this regularly makes me feel like a kid again. It hasn’t taken long to feel stronger and see my technique improving. Climbing is also such an interesting head sport — it’s a mental puzzle working out the moves and an emotional challenge executing those moves without letting fear undermine your confidence. It takes body and brain to unlock a hard climb.”
Richard also enjoyed the social side of the experience. “No one knows whether you’re a heart surgeon or a ditch digger — everyone just interacts around the climbing without putting on airs.”
Most mountaineers living in Central Washington have either climbed with or at least know of Kyle Flick. That’s not because the 61-year-old lawyer is the best or fastest or flashiest of climbers but because Kyle is out in the mountains weekend after weekend, year after year, decade after decade. While Kyle prefers being in the mountains to being most anywhere, he sheepishly admits the indoor walls have been a great addition to Wenatchee’s ‘outdoor’ world.
“Climbing isn’t like riding a bike — you need to keep at it to stay strong, hone your technique, know when footholds will stick or slip, and to keep your confidence up. Some of my climbing friends have become ‘gym rats’ and don’t get outdoor that much, but for me the gym is about climbing better and safer when I am outdoors. It’s also become a place to meet new people who might want to join me outdoors.”
One person Kyle Flick had in mind when he joked about ‘gym rats’ was long-time climbing partner Bill Dobbins, 65, the former General Manager of Douglas County PUD. Bill appreciates the efficiency of climbing indoors. In recent years his parents have needed unpredictable but frequent attention and he’s been able to climb indoors in a fraction of the time needed to drive, hike to, and climb at an outdoor crag. “Climbing at the gym eliminates the need to worry about the weather or the normal logistics of climbing outdoors.”
Climbing indoors was something Bill planned to do as a post-retirement activity and he’s pleased that he’s climbing considerably better now than two years ago when he retired. “I feel like my technique is as good as it was in college days. There aren’t many things about which I can make that claim.”
Jessica Holmer and Rollin Storud
About 2.5 years ago Jessica Holmer and her partner Rollin Storud moved from Alaska to Wenatchee. For Jessica, 37, who works for the school district, this was actually a case of moving back to the area to be near family. The return to family also meant a return to climbing – she had climbed for 6 or 7 years but took a long hiatus while living up north. She joined the gym almost immediately upon her return to Central Washington. “It gave me a good workout while improving my skills and my endurance. That makes me safer when I get outdoors. Climbing outdoors is the ultimate goal, but I must admit it’s really nice to climb in a warm place in winter and a cool place in summer. And there are also the friends you develop at a place like this– it makes it awfully easy to spend most of your time indoors.”
Rollin, 39, a plant foreman for AAA Ready Mix, was roped into climbing because it was Jessica’s passion. Rollin is built like a rugby player who could flatten those he runs into. Jessica is a tall, thin stick and looks like she might need an anchor in a stiff wind. Despite appearances, it’s Jessica who others recognize as the climbing beast. She spiders up hard routes that relatively few others can follow and she can climb those routes all day long with little apparent loss of strength.
That makes keeping up with Jessica an impossible task for Rollin. “I have to give up on the macho attitude and just appreciate how much she’s helped me improve as a climber. You see this often down here – women who flash routes relatively few men can touch. It’s cool that this is a sport where women and men can perform on very equal footing.”
Related to this and related to why Rollin enjoys climbing so much is the personal nature of the sport. For him climbing is a competition with self rather than with others. “Each route established on the gym walls is rated in difficulty and stays up for about a month so you can keep working on problems that stumped you earlier. Eventually if some combination of strength, flexibility, and balance gets you up something you couldn’t do earlier, it’s a very measurable sign of improvement. That’s a rush.”
Shane and Jessica Moser, Marc and Margareta Dilley
“It’s all about Shane,” Margareta Dilley, 70, says looking her grandson, Shane Moser, in the eye. “Everything is always about Shane.” Margareta jokes but Shane, 8, takes his grandmother’s words at face value and nods in agreement.
Shane started climbing at the gym over a year ago when Margareta and her husband Marc, both retirees and climbers, bought their grandson a membership to the gym. “It was something active and fun we could all do together, which is hard to find, and Shane really took to it,” says Margareta. “Later, when Shane saw other kids participating in the afternoon programming for the Youth Climbing Team, he couldn’t wait to join.”
As part of that team now, Shane is often climbing several days a week during the school year. That has his grandparents or his mother, Jessica Moser, shuttling Shane to the gym and then climbing themselves while the youngsters train. Jessica, 41, is a local teacher who has reconnected with the sport because of her son. “I used to climb occasionally with Marc but the gym has boosted my enthusiasm and my abilities. What I love most, however, is that Shane loves being part of the team. The coaches aren’t drill sergeant – they just want the kids to have fun.”
An ironic side effect of the laid-back coaching staff is that the team is garnering good results at local and regional competitions. Shane is one of a number of team members who keeps placing near the top of his age bracket. His abilities have jumped to the point that mother and grandparents alike can’t follow many of the routes he scampers up. That’s saying something because the elders of this three-generation foursome are strong climbers with decades of outdoor experience.
Meanwhile Margareta finds it comical that she might now be considered a gym rat. “If Marc and I are climbing by ourselves, we prefer being outdoors, but I can’t tell you how much I enjoy coming here to climb with family.”
“This is my Cheers – the place where everybody knows your name,” says the 43-year-old mother who, between the chores of managing a family, schedules me-time at the
Riverfront Rock Gym four or five times a week.
Maria was introduced to climbing shortly after the gym opened in March 2017 and she took to the place like children take to sugar. Despite having climbed indoors for over two years, she has only climbed outdoors once. “The owners tease me about that, but I come here for different reasons than most. By nature I’m not as adventurous as the average person who trains here. For many climbers this is a controlled, safe environment and may not be very scary, but getting up high on these walls or trying to get over the big overhangs gives me a big jolt of excitement. It gives me about as big a ‘challenge spike’ as I can handle.”
“The social side of the gym is also a big draw,” she says. “Yes, there are people working out with ear buds who don’t want to be disturbed, but so many of the people you meet don’t mind teaming up and swapping belays with you. If you just put yourself out there a little, you meet all kinds of new people. You get stronger, fitter, challenged, and you make new friends – what’s not to like about that?”
I’ve already shared the start of my story – so how fares my quest to return to the sport and the abilities of my youth? Recently, I was climbing at Vantage, one of our local outdoor venues, with my adult daughter who has also joined the climbing gym so that we can both visit and egg each other on.
Toward the end of our day at Vantage, I told Heather I wanted to lead a route called Group Therapy to see how I was progressing. In the old days this would have been a challenging climb for me, but still a step or two below my maximum grade. Heather looked at me skeptically. Concerned I was reaching too high, she asked, “Really? You want to lead that?”
My arms and technique were feeling strong from the gym sessions. My head was in a good place –I was confident about what I could and couldn’t do. “I’ve got this,” I told her.
And get it I did.