Climbing is one of the things we attempt early in life. After many warnings and hard knocks, we usually succeed. I have not been a serious climber but many of the most exhilarating feelings I have experienced have been as the result of climbing.
As a pre-teenager, I remember climbing to the top of my grandparents’ two tiered rabbit hutches under the mulberry tree in their back yard. There, neighborhood kids and I would stuff ourselves with the delicious mulberries. This came to a halt when we discovered small worms in the berries. I guess the worms didn’t hurt me and perhaps they helped me develop an ironclad stomach.
When we moved to Denver, the boys took up skiing and Jean and I started hiking trails in the nearby Rockies. We joined good friends climbing through the woods, fording streams and dodging tree limbs and large rocks. The combination of mountain peaks and valleys, forest, lakes, flowers and pungent aroma makes me feel as close to heaven as you can be on this earth. Oh, how satisfying it is to sit by a beautiful lake and share a lunch of cold fried chicken and onion sandwiches with fellow climbers.
One of our favorite climbs was in Paris. We were in the City of Lights with Ken and Iris Blancett and two of their children. Their nineteen year old son, Scott, accompanied Jean and me on a walk through the Left Bank looking for a shop where we could buy pieces of our yellow French earthenware. We didn’t find the pottery but we came across several historic sights that we had not seen before.
Eventually we crossed back over the Seine near the Notre Dame Cathedral. Scott invited us to join him in climbing up the inside stairs of the cathedral’s bell tower. Jean and I had never heard of these stairs but it sounded like the thing to do. It turned out to be quite a task. The spiral corridor was dark and the steps were hardly deep enough for my size twelve shoes.
The closer we got to the top, the more narrow the stairwell got. Finally, we had climbed all of the 422 steps and joined the gargoyles looking down on most of the City of Lights. We could identify many of the famous landmarks of the city and had a great view of the winding Seine River and its beautiful bridges.
What a treat and we owe it to Scott. There were very few people on the climb at that time. I understand that now there are often long, slow lines of tourist waiting to make the climb.
In the year 2000, we were in Jordan near the Dead Sea where we visited the World Heritage city of Petra. In 6 BC, the many buildings of the city were carved into the colorful sandstone cliffs. It was an important stop for the caravans on the Silk Road.
For many centuries later, it was considered lost.
From our hotel, we walked three fourths of a mile through the narrow gorge into the city. What a breathtaking sight to see the façade of the Treasury Building at the entrance. From there we wandered through the streets of this ancient city and visited many of the colorful sandstone buildings.
After a light lunch at the only lunch area in town, we continued our walk and soon came to wide steps cut into the sandstone. A sign told us that the steps lead to a very important monastery. Not many people were attempting the climb but Jean and I to wanted to see the monastery so we took off up the wide stairway. There were no handrails and soon we found many of the steps were crumbling and almost all of them were covered with loose sand and donkey poop. I slowly trudged up the several hundred steps pulling and tugging Jean all the way,
Eventually we made it to the top and visited the huge magnificent building, but I don’t know if it was worth all the effort it took to get there. We collapsed at the nearby soft drink stand until we regained enough energy to go back down to the center of town.
We slowly trekked back down the five hundred or so steps. We then walked back through the town and through the gorge until we reached our hotel. Needless to say we were completely exhausted, but some great ice cream we found in the hotel helped revive us.
I stopped by the front desk to settle the bill and Jean went straight to our room. When I reached the room, I found Jean in the bathroom seated on the closed toilet stool with her feet soaking in the bidet. I had seen those things in several hotels in Europe but I had never before known what they were for.
Another climb that we have been fortunate to do a couple of times is on the Great Wall of China. In 1984, we climbed the many steps to the gate at the top of the wall near Beijing. Thirteen years later, gondolas had been installed for the trip to the gate, which was a big help.
We walked on the wall for only a mile or so but it is actually a climb since the wall goes up and down steep mountainsides, The wall could be seen traversing over the top of the world like a stone serpent. It is an unbelievable sight. We could understand why it is called one of mankind’s grandest achievements. The astronauts say that it can be identified from outer space. It was a bit painful for me when I thought of all the years it took to build and the many lives that were lost in the construction to keep the Mongol out of China.
I believe that the best-kept secret of a climbing opportunity is in Washington, D.C. I probably had visited our capitol city a dozen times on business or pleasure before I found that there are stairs between the cast iron interior and exterior domes on the capitol building. The climb is not available to just everybody.
Around 1995, we were with Bob and Billie Suchsland from Tulsa in Washington and went to the office of their congressman, Jim Imhoff (now senator). We were there to obtain passes to visit the congress and senate chambers.
One of the congressman’s assistants invited us to accompany Mr. Imhoff and thirteen others on his weekly climb between the domes, She said that only congressmen could take people on this climb and that Emhoff was the only one of them who made the trip every week. He agreed to extend the limit of people on the trip from fifteen to seventeen to accommodate us. What an opportunity.
Mr. Imhoff, wearing his cowboy boots, led us to an elevator that took us into the outer dome just above the Brumidi fresco on the ceiling of the interior dome. There we entered a new world of battleship gray. As I remember everything we saw between the cast-iron domes was painted gray.
The fresco on the ceiling of the interior dome is 180 feet above the rotunda floor and the top of the Statue Freedom is 288 feet above the rotunda floor. After maneuvering several metal walkways and stairs, we arrived to a door that took us outside to an open area where we could look out between concrete columns. These columns hold a platform that holds the Statue of Freedom,
We walked around the area with a 360 degree view of the District and parts of Virginia and Maryland. There were marvelous views of the mall with its many memorials and museums as well as the Potomac River. Also we could see the White House and the many government office buildings as well as the buildings and ball fields of the city.
I have never felt so patriotic or as proud of my country as I did at that moment. Except for our Rocky Mountain hikes, this was my best climb ever.
At 85, I don’t even climb stepladders. I expect to have one more climb and that is up Jacob’s Ladder.
Sometimes I forget that you climb down as well as up. I once climbed down 897 steps that I did not climb up. That was in the Washington Monument in Washington, DC. I had ridden to the top of the monument on an elevator with my dad, mother, sister and grandmother in 1956. My dad challenged me to walk down the steps with him. I accepted. It was fun and interesting viewing all the messages on the many gift stones on the walls.