Climber Re-conquers El Capitan at age 81: Sets new record as oldest person to climb El Capitan
The following article appeared in the Sacramento Bee on May 24, 1999, and was written by John D. Cox, Sacramento Bee Staff Writer. For a related article, see Stimson Bullitt, at age 79, an Inspirational Climber.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK -- An 81-year-old New Jersey man broke his own record Sunday as the oldest person to climb El Capitan.
A spokeswoman said Gerry Bloch and his two climbing partners, veteran Yosemite climber Mike Corbett, 45, and photographer Craig White, 48, reached the top of the cliff at 12:55 p.m.
"Gerry says he's great, but he's a little pooped," said Susan Arthur, a spokeswoman for Yosemite Concession Services.
The climbers planned to spend Sunday night at the rocky summit and descend the mountain today. The sheer face of El Capitan has some of the longest climbs in North America. The world's largest granite monolith, "El Cap" attracts rock climbers from through out the world.
Bloch's team of climbers left the floor of Yosemite Valley about 8 a.m. May 13. The route chosen for this climb, the 2,500-foot ascent of Aquarian Wall, is somewhat shorter, although it is considered by climbers to be more difficult than Bloch's route 13 years ago. In 1986, at the age of 68, Bloch became the oldest person to climb El Capitan with a four-day, 3,000-foot ascent of The Nose.
The climbers this year took longer than expected 10 days instead of a week. But even before they began the ascent, Corbett made it clear that speed was not important. They were more interested in safety and comfort.
"Although, still it's a rough environment," said Corbett. "Everywhere you go, it's granite. There's nothing soft about it. It chews up your ropes, it chews up your hands, your clothing. It's a rough world up there."
A retired chemical engineer for an oil company, Bloch has been rock climbing for more than 60 years, since his days as a high school kid in Brooklyn, although he had not climbed during the past four years while attending to his ailing wife. Anne K. Bloch died last Nov. 23.
In an interview last fall, Bloch mentioned wistfully that he would like to make one last assault on El Capitan. He sent the newspaper article to Corbett as part of a 1998 Christmas newsletter, and Corbett responded with an offer to help him make the climb.
"This is a sort of special thing," said Bloch. "And then I think I'd be inclined to do mucheasier climbing."
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