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Sixty-Something: Those Last Hurrahs Of Getting Older

T.J. Clemente

The author first discovered Chamonix, France at 29-years-old. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

In a lifetime there are so many things to do places to go. Some people have "Bucket Lists," while others have favorite vacation places, restaurants, and even roads. As you age eventually you have to curtail certain activities like the amount of singles tennis you can play, how far you can bike, how late you can stay up, or how many sweets you can eat, etc. You just have to eventually realize you must be smart with the limitations age brings. You don't have to totally surrender to age but you have to be wise.

Most of my life I have had three passions outside love of family and careers. They were tennis, sailing and skiing (mountaineering). I still sail perhaps more than any other person on the East End, because I am on the water (weather permitting) almost every day from May until November. Age hasn't curtailed that activity but being retired has enhanced it. As for tennis that's not quite the same as I used to plays hours of singles matches per week, sometimes as many as three on a weekend, but now I play very little singles, just doubles, if I play at all.

The author and Matt Culen. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

As for skiing (mountaineering), age has dominated my activeness until this last week when I turned back the clock through conditioning, weight loss, and long-range planning. In my twenties I skied almost every winter weekend in Vermont. Then at 29-years-old I discovered Chamonix, France and traveled there once a year every year to ski, hike, and climb there. I did this religiously until a divorce, a personal economic downturn and living in Montauk caused me to stop at age 55. Yet I saved the photos, the equipment and the skis thinking I had one "last hurrah" left. Now I still have been skiing in Vermont these last years but just for a few days and on mild intermediate slopes. Although I did return to visit Chamonix with my wife in 2016, I did not do any alpine skiing. We cross-country skied doing nothing extreme. Cindi and I did ascend up the Aiguille du Midi, the highest cable car in the alps, to see the beginning of the Valle Blanche. It was then I decided I needed one last hurrah on the Valle Blanche.

If you Google "Valle Blanche" it says, "The famous Vallée Blanche in Chamonix is an off-piste ski route, 20km long (12.427 miles) with a vertical descent of 2700m (8,858 ft.) The views are stunning and the high mountain environment provides a real sensation of wilderness. This is one of those memorable life experiences that you'll never forget. If the conditions are good, this wonderful and magnificent adventure trip is accessible, with a mountain guide, for most intermediate skiers and is a fantastic journey into the largest glaciated domain in the Alps, the Mont Blanc massif."

I did my first Valle Blanche at 29-years-old. I continued to do them in my thirties, forties and fifties and last week I did perhaps my final one at age 66. I cannot explain to those who ski and have never done the Valle Blanche why it is difficult, no matter what level you ski because ski ability is not a huge factor in completing this feat as is endurance, strength and determination. The greatest Himalayan climber of all time, Reinold Messner, said at a dinner I attended about achieving goals like mountain climbs and other such physical things, "In the end it is not the conditioning but the will."

Here is where the age factor comes in. In my twenties doing a Valle Blanche was not a walk in the park but not as strenuous as at age 66. I knew my 2019 Valle Blanche might be my last. When noted Chamonix guide Christophe Dat saw me struggling and seized my skis for the walk up the 536 stairs (26 floors) to get off the final glacier (Mer du Glace) it was then that I realized this was to be my last Valle Blanche. When I was younger and saw such a thing I wondered if that would ever be me. Last Wednesday it was. However, the glory of skiing through the many glaciers mile after mile and seeing the magic of the Mount Blanc (15,781 ft) massif as you ski is a part of life now over for me. As is climbing to the summit of Mt Blanc as I did in 1995 is now over. There are just some things you must surrender to age. However, thanks to my wife's Cindi's encouragement along with tennis and ski friend Matthew Culen, also 66-years-old, I did it one last glorious time last Wednesday.

I must say watching Matt Culen experience his first Vallee Blanche fueled the thrill of this one for me. Watching him walk for the first time in crampons down the steep slope exit of the Aig Du Midi to make those first turns into the miles of snow that covers the Valle Blanche made me remember the excitement of my first. Matt has done helicopter skiing in Canada and skied all over Europe, Canada and the U.S.A. but he admitted this Vallee Blanche day is the pinnacle of his life's skiing adventures. Now I take aim at getting my sailboat back into the waters of Gardiner's Bay for the 2019 sailing season!

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