Walking around a bend into view of the Project Wall area, Rifle, I suddenly slowed to see at least 40 people lined along
the roadside, faces upturned. They were silent. All I could think was, Oh no. An accident.
And then I looked upward to see Lee Sheftel high on his project, Present Tense (5.13d).
I stopped, too, but at that moment Lee was resting before the crux, at about two-thirds of the way up. I proceeded to the base of nearby Defenseless Betty (only
about seven grades easier), smiling as I opened my pack because I could feel the vibe in the air, the strong collective will. Everyone there
knew Lee and loved him and wanted him to do his route. Briefly looking downward, I missed the magic moment, but heard the jubilant roar erupt from
Going for a high left-hand sidepull off a bad right sloper, Lee had stuck it.
"Hey, I'm here!" he thought in surprise, and madly climbed on.
Lee was psyched to do his climb, but what I will always remember most was that tangible swell of support. It was my favorite moment of the whole climbing
I have often climbed with Lee, and at this time of year ski with him as well. Lee is an inspiration to his friends because he is 62 and climbs really hard.
Time happens to all of us and for many years it has been a background comfort in my mind to know the rocks are always there for us, and we can climb
pretty hard depending on how much we want to.
Lee also skis hard and well; I sometimes call him Mr. Smooth. Two days ago we and several others (all climbers, come to think of it) hiked the Highlands
Bowl, the long slim ridge rising a quarter mile beyond and 800 feet above the lift-served area of the Aspen Highlands resort. The hike was awful because
the wind was blasting, knocking us sideways and batting the skis on our backs, and trying to imprint us with the "Highlands Ridge tattoo" - a patch
of frostbite on the right, windward cheekbone. Then we had a heavenly ski down, in knee-deep cold, crystalline snow. We whooped; we got face shots.
We were each thinking, This is what it’s all about.
Over the course of last year, Lee had both hips resurfaced. During the period of his recovery, I offered to put up some topropes for him. It was my turn
to help, after all the times he encouraged me or gave beta as I struggled on routes he hiked. Lee always thinks I can do things.
Anyway, the trouble was that I got him maybe three weeks after he started climbing, when I should have nabbed my chance instantly. After we did a few faithful,
straightforward warmups, he suggested the route Hang ‘Em High. It is 12c.
She picked the wrong person to do that in front of."Uh, Lee, I haven't done that one for awhile."
"You haven't?" he asked, astonished.
"I don't remember the beta."
"Well, I do!" he said. "I'll tell it to you." He looked at me expectantly.
"Lee. It's too hard for me right now."
"Oh." Now he was just rather baffled, but he knew everyone there and swiftly found a leader for it. I am not sure this bit of rehab would have been approved
by the American Medical Association, but it certainly gave him no trouble.
I've got a million Lee stories. Lee is fun to climb with because he has a million stories; don’t all our good climbing partners? He is sharp,
straight talking and unafraid.
Still, my favorite Lee story has nothing to do with the mountain sports that made us friends. It took place in a video store, and I wasn't there.
Lee and his wife, Cheryl Herhahn, were about to walk into the shop when the door swung open as several kids began exiting. Lee thought nothing of it, was
perfectly happy to step aside. The oldest, a boy, looked to be about 5 or 6.
Suddenly from nearby the mother hit the boy hard, across the chest, bellowing, "How many times do I have to tell you, stay outa people's way!" The boy
She picked the wrong person to do that in front of.
Lee looked at her hard and said sarcastically, “Next time hit him harder. That way you could knock him down.”
She said, "Stay out of my ##@@!! business!"
He put his face close and said, "It is my business. You do that again, I'll knock you into the sidewalk."
She shouted, "Bring it on, bitch!"
Lee gazed at the woman and thought, OK, this is how it's going to be. Then he walked outside and took down her license plate.
That stopped her cold, and she hurried her kids into her car, as if that could somehow prevent his knowledge.
Lee went home and called Human Services. He, his wife, and witnesses were interviewed. And there my story ends, because he has no way of knowing what happened.
But from what I read I know this. Though people often don't know what to do when witnessing abuse, adults who were once mistreated children say they were
always grateful for the times someone intervened to protect them.
All I can say is there are a lot of reasons to value my climbing partners.