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I started climbing a year ago, at the age of 36. I really enjoy the sport and try to climb a lot.

However, lately I've been thinking if it is possible to achieve anything (worthy of mention) for someone who started at such an age.
Obviously I won't be able to beat Adam Ondra or be the first in the world to free a 30-pitch wall... but still, are there any frontiers left for a climber who physically can't compete with the younger generation?

EDIT Of course, "climbing just for fun" is fine. However, I'm a high achiever, I love setting challenging goals, pushing myself hard, winning and becoming one of the best (if not the best) in all of my endeavours. Moreover, having an inspirational goal is nice even for hobbies. I've seen too many times when people buy a ton of equipment, pay for the expensive courses and then do the activity for two days once per year - exactly because they don't have a goal!

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    Is it actually important to you to do something "worthy of mention"? Whatever happened to climbing because it's fun? – Toby Speight Dec 23 '20 at 14:02
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    @BenCrowell, I partially agree with your concerns, but what I'm looking for is hard data / information, not opinions :) – Alexander Dec 23 '20 at 14:42
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    I‘m interested how being the best in your endeavors works out. This is a (too) lofty goal imho. In climbing you‘re competing against yourself mostly and that’s a cool thing. Also, for an outsider it is easy to underestimate the proficiency of professionals. Imagine somebody asking whether they would have a chance at becoming a starting quarterback at the age of 36 because they like to compete. – Toto Dec 27 '20 at 10:56
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    Try not to be featured in Accidents in North American Mountaineering as a first priority. You don’t want to be noteworthy that way. – Jon Custer Dec 31 '20 at 15:00
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    @JonCuster Actually that might be a perfect Plan B. – QuantumBrick Jan 3 at 22:02
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I agree 100% with the answer of @endolith, but will add one point. If doing something "worthy of mention" is of great importance to you, try for an age record or a disability record. People take great pride in being the first X climber to climb Everest, where X ranges from blind to amputee to over N years old to whatever.

Maybe you can pick a goal from endolith's chart. For example, be the first climber over 40 to do 5.14d. First you need to find out why the age records are where they are -- that is, is there a true physiological reason why no one over 40 has yet done 5.14d? Most likely there is not. For example, until very recently, a top tennis player over 30 was "old". Tell that now to Djokovic, Federer and Williams!

Starting at 36 adds a handicap, possiblly insurmountable, but you can still achieve "grand old man" status and be an inspiration to people who give up as old before they need to.

The line of "too old" is moving upwards in many endeavors (Fauci just turned 80; is he too old for his job?) and also many sports and other activities have age-related sections. There is no reason to suppose that you cannot become an inspiration as a climber starting at 36 or that doing so is not accomplishing something.

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  • Rock climbing and mountaineering are different (but overlapping) things :) – endolith Dec 25 '20 at 22:36
  • @endolith Yes. And tennis does not overlap at all. The point of my answer is that the line of "too old" is moving upwards (Fauci just turned 80; is he too old for his job?) and also that many sports and other activities have age-related sections. There is no reason to suppose that you cannot become an inspiration as a climber starting at 36 or that doing so is not accomplishing something. – ab2 Dec 25 '20 at 23:15
  • I mean that returning alive from a rock climb is very likely, whether you succeeded or not. If you fail, you just get caught by the rope and try again, or give up and get lowered. It's not mountain climbing. (Though mountain climbing can contain sections of rock climbing.) – endolith Dec 26 '20 at 3:15
  • @endolith OK, edited. – ab2 Dec 26 '20 at 3:55
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I've been thinking if it is possible to achieve anything (worthy of mention) for someone who started at [36]

Are these "worthy of mention"?

Here's a summary of records from 8a.nu:

Hardest U.S. Sport Climbs, by Age

I will never be as good as any of these people, even the 50 year olds, so I guess there's no point in me climbing?

are there any frontiers left for a climber who physically can't compete with the younger generation?

What is a "frontier"? Does Margo Hayes' first female 5.15a count, or is it irrelevant because men have done better? Does an off-width first ascent of 5.14b not count, because someone else has done a 5.15d? Does the 5.13d at age 50 in the chart above not count, because younger people have done higher grades? Would doing a 5.14b at age 50 not count as a "frontier"?

Most climbers are motivated by the enjoyment of climbing itself and by beating their own grades and self-improvement, not "pushing frontiers". If neither of those motivates you, then maybe it's just not the sport for you? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

As Ogawa says in the above video:

The number one thing that will help improve and level up your climbing is if you love climbing.

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  • I'm a high achiever, I love setting challenging goals, pushing myself hard, winning and becoming one of the best (if not the best) in all of my endeavours. – Alexander Dec 26 '20 at 8:11
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    There is another one, even combining two goals. Getting old and still crushing: mojagear.com/… – Manziel Dec 26 '20 at 23:10
  • @Alexander My questions about "what counts as a frontier" weren't rhetorical. Can you answer them? If you climb harder than anyone else in your age group, does that count as a frontier? – endolith Dec 28 '20 at 16:58
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If you're looking for goals then look to the best purpose for climbing "To continually climb better than yourself", obviously while having fun along the way. While others here have mentioned many of the reasons others have become well known for their climbing (while older) one that has been missed is route development.

You can scout out, set and create rock climbing routes once you become experienced enough. It is something I never thought I would do as a young climber (I started climbing at 11), but after a long hiatus with kids I came back to climbing at 39. Since then I have set multiple routes, and even now help manage a crag. So yes, there is plenty that you can do to climb well, contribute, and be recognised over the age of 30.

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    That's a great idea actually, thanks for sharing your thoughts The Coder! :) – Alexander Apr 12 at 9:29
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    @Alexander If you want to accept another answer than mine, go ahead. I won't mind. – ab2 Jul 14 at 22:44
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The more important question, regardless of age, is how much are you willing to sacrifice. The people that push the boundaries are the ones that devote their lives to it. Going to the the gym after work aint good enough, and unless you are a trustafarian, RedBull doesn't sponsor weekend warriors.

Of course the low hanging fruit has been eaten, and you are never going to get into the finals of an IFSC world cup, but this world still has many virgin routes and unclimbed peaks. Even in the United States, I have run across some beautiful looking, untouched lines, way out in the wilderness, and wished I had the weeks to try a first ascent, but...baby needs new shoes, so back to work I go.

So if you really want a golden piton award, the first step is to say goodbye to your family and quit your day job.

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