Dave Bierer got a phone call the other day that he hadn't expected.
Almost 20 years ago, Bierer, and his neighbor, Dusty Wood, climbed Wyoming’s imposing Devils Tower with the man many in the Bitterroot have come to know as "the mountain goat."
Bierer recognized Mario Locatelli’s voice right away.
Locatelli was getting ready to celebrate his 87th birthday on Dec. 28 and he had an idea of how to make 2020 a year to remember.
The Hamilton man had recently read an article on how an 87-year-old had set the new record as the oldest man to climb Devils Tower. Locatelli wanted to match that and he wondered if his old climbing partners were up for one more trip.
“I told him I would absolutely be honored,” Bierer said.
Locatelli has since learned that a 91-year-old climber has set the bar for the oldest to climb the 867-foot phonolite porphyry column that draws more than 6,000 climbers each year.
“It’s OK,” Locatelli said. “I might have to go back when I'm 91 1/2.”
Having lived the best part of his life finding ways to physically challenge himself, Locatelli decided that the Devils Tower was the perfect goal to set him to training this winter.
“It’s straight up,” he said. “I wonder if I can still do that. I think there’s a good chance that I can.”
Locatelli doesn’t worry about his legs. They’re still stout and strong. He’ll focus more this winter on building up the upper body strength he’ll need to scale the tower that was first climbed in 1893 by two local ranchers using a wooden ladder.
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Today, climbers from all over the world consider Devils Tower a unique and premier climbing area.
Bierer remembers that it wasn’t easy 20 years ago.
“Now I’m 50 pounds heavier and a couple of decades older,” he said. “The last time I climbed it, I was in my 20s and now I’m in my late 40s. It’s going to be a challenge for all of us.
“It’s all climbing cracks,” Bierer said. “Sticking your hand in cracks, making fists, and pulling yourself up. … The last time we did it, it took us four hours to go up and two hours to come down. The entire time, you are completely exposed to the valley floor.
“Up on top, there’s this beautiful mounded meadow,” he said.
Bierer said he and his neighbor will be dusting off all their old climbing gear and inspecting everything.
“I’m sure my climbing shoes are going to need to be replaced,” he said. “There is a lot that’s changed in the sport since the last time I’ve been out. It will be fun to catch up.”
Locatelli is going to be looking for a climbing belt, a figure eight and a few slings.
“If anyone has any of that gear, I would buy it from them,” he said.
As soon as the weather moderates this spring, the men plan to start practicing on some climbs in the Bitterroot. They don’t have a date set yet on when they’ll travel to Wyoming.
“My neighbor thinks it’s a great idea,” Bierer said. “To do this with Mario will be special. He’s a local legend. He’s been to the top of every peak in the whole valley.”
Locatelli said he’s not sure if he’ll attempt his trademark headstand when they top out on Devils Tower.
“I was quite a bit younger back then when I did it the last time,” he said. “If God’s willing, I might try it again.”