As Long as You Can Climb City of Rocks, You Aren’t Too Old
By Ray Brooks
When Ralph Tingey arrived at City of Rocks in late morning, having driven from Colorado, he found a note instructing him to look for us in the Breadloaves area. He then located us near a route named Bloody Fingers by asking other climbers if they had seen a group of “silverhairs.” As thunder boomed in the near-distance and it started raining lightly, he tied into a dangling rope that ran through anchor bolts and carabiners a hundred feet above. While I belayed him on the other end, he said he’d hurry up the fairly difficult route named Twist & Crawl, remove our gear, and rappel from the permanent top anchors. He topped out on the summit as it started raining more seriously, noted a lightning ground-strike about a mile away, hurriedly grabbed all our gear, rigged a rappel, and then took time to say hello to two slightly lost climbers in their twenties. He invited them to use our rope to rappel the route and they eagerly accepted. After rappelling down to me, he mentioned that two other climbers would be descending our rope, shrugged, and said, “It looked like they needed some help.”
Ralph, who is seventy, had a hip replaced about six months earlier. He retired a couple years back from a long career with the National Park Service. The young people had caught his attention because after a lifetime of climbing, Ralph has a wealth of experience in recognizing potentially serious situations. He worked as a climbing ranger at Grand Teton National Park for a number of years and is featured in a new movie, The Grand Rescue, which recreates a dangerous and daring 1967 rescue of an injured climber off the North Face of the Grand Teton. Ralph and his fellow climbing rangers received Presidential Medals of Valor for their deeds during the multi-day rescue epic.