‘There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old and bold climbers,’ I remember reading somewhere. I had always known it to be wrong, and this weekend was proof again. Urs Kallen is 70, we climbed Red Shirt on Yamnuska, it was the thirtieth time he climbed it. According to his journals he is the third 70-year old to go up the classic Yam route, which is seven-pitches and is graded 5.9. I led every pitch because of the threatening storm clouds. On the last pitch Urs looked up and said “This one is mine,” and off he went.
Fritz Wiessner was the first 70-year old to climb Red Shirt, in 1970. He climbed it with Toni Hiebeler, who climbed the first winter ascent of the Eiger North Face in 1961. The other 70-year old to climb Red Shirt was Helmut Microys with Peter Gatzsch and Kallen. Weissner was one of the cutting edge climbers of his day. In 1936 he did the first ascent of Mount Waddington, 4019m, in BC. In 1937, he discovered the Devils Thumb, 2767m, in Alaska and in 1938 he reached the highest point on the Snowpatch Route, nearly finishing the route, in the Bugaboos. In 1949, he climbed L’Imperiale, 5.9, on Mt. King at Val David in Quebec. He also spent time exploring K2. On Red Shirt he led every pitch, but on the final pitch he lost the route. Instead of taking the easy 5.6 traverse around a pillar to the right, he charged straight up, getting the first ascent of what is now the last pitch of the route Dreambed, 5.11. Kallen named it the Wiessner Pitch, it is a steep 5.10, with it Wiessner set the bar for other 70-year old climbers.
Kallen knew when he turned 70, he would repeat the Wiessner Pitch. I was unaware of his ambitions and when he took the rack I was set for his right traverse on easy 5.6. When he started climbing up, clipping old pitons, I thought, “huh, where is he goin?” Using small limestone crimps and a thin layback on poor feet Kallen climbed up to gain the exit crack. “Urs, go right, the pitch goes out that,” I said to him, the man who had climbed the route 30-times, as if he would get lost. “Up, I am going up!” he yelled down to me. He plugged in one cam at the base and ran it out, 10m, to the top. He rigged a belay and brought me up. “There was no way I was coming all the way up here and not climbing the Wiessner Pitch,” Kallen said with an ear-to-ear grin. A black storm cloud crested the range next to us and we hastily made our descent. No old and bold climbers? Think again.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain
Kallen on Pitch 5
Kallen starting up the Wiessner Pitch
Kallen topping out the upper crack
Kallen, in his element
Kallen on the traverse 5.6 final pitch of Red Shirt, nearly 20 years ago