As we reached the crag we had chosen to climb that day, we thought we were alone since it was a week day, but noticed a man high up on the wall, auto-belaying himself. The man looked to be around 75 years old. He asked us a few questions with a thick accent and simply could not understand that we were homeschooling. He kept asking us if it was a school group, or if we were volunteers... until I told him we were traveling together and had spent the summer in the Yukon, our home base. That, he seemed to get... and he slowly opened up. He told me that he came from Poland in the 80's and roadtripped all around Canada, all the way up to Dawson City and Alaska. I asked him where he climbed before living in this area and very humbly told me he climbed in many, many places, namely in Afghanistan before the war, in the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Himalayas. He attempted Everest and fell in a crevasse just above Camp 3 and got very injured... He reminded me of a shorter version of Yvon Chouinard (founder of the Patagonia company, you can hear his story in the great movie 180 degrees South - Conquerors of the Useless). He told me he used to ice climb and mountain bike a lot.
Later, he asked me if I knew how the road to the Denali was, if it was doable in a small car... The man still has dreams. At 75. As we parted ways, I told him I admire the fact that he was still out there, rock climbing and mountain biking (although on easier trails, he said, "because the bones are not as solid at my age..."), that so many people who were active like him in their young age, stop being so as they age... He looked at me with his big blue eyes and simply said: But that's the essence of life.
I felt like bowing to this wise master. Instead, I just smiled a warm smile and felt extremely grateful for this beautiful encounter. There are people you cannot forget.