Lifestyles 04/04/01

Grandpa still rocks

By Lizzy Scully

"Yeah, he climbs really hard. He does like 5'12s for warm ups and he sent Slugfest last summer."

"No way, dude, he's a grandpa."

"Well, he doesn't act like one, man, he's dating a 23-year-old and he's almost a 45!"

"It's that weird diet that he's on that keeps him so mutantly strong. He only eats protein, man!"

In a city of only 40,000 people, with fewer than 50 climbers, rumors fly around like spittle splattering off a sprayer's lips. An easy target, Charlie "Chuck" Odette, is a divorced grandpa who spends nearly all of his free time climbing walls and hanging out with his 12-year-old daughter and 23-year-old girlfriend.

Snapshot. Forty-four-year-old Odette stands in front of the local climbing gym, Adventure Sports, which he has owned in part for the last four years. He's shirtless, wearing only tight blue jeans, tall black boots and a big ole cowboy hat. He looks like a model from a Wrangler Jean's ad or maybe a skinny version of the Marlboro Man.

About six-feet-tall, his lanky physique is topped off with a mop of thick, wavy, dirty blond hair styled like Brad Pitt in "A River Runs Through It." He certainly doesn't look anywhere near a half a century old. He doesn't look like a grandpa either.

He looks more like a cowboy and a ballet dancer. His muscles appeared to be as solid as the cliffs he climbs.

"He climbed so slowly," said Odette's girlfriend, Bonnie Uresk, of the first time she saw him on one of Logan Canyon's limestone cliffs. "He seemed to hang on to stuff forever." After 20 odd years of experience mountaineering, rock climbing and studying martial arts, Odette's elegant and stylish performances on rock resemble those of a modern dancer. He is one of only a handful of climbers in the world who has climbed at the level of 5'14.

Routes or climbs rated at 5'14 are the equivalent of the Olympic gold medal winning performances of ice skaters or gymnasts. Climbs are rated from 5'0 to 5'14, with a,b,c and d as subcategories for 5'10 and above.

"I did my first thirteen and I didn't know that I'd done it, probably '90 or '91," explained Chuck. "I was 36 years old."

While this route was done in Idaho, Logan Canyon is home to most of Chuck's favorite routes, many of which he's established himself.

Establishing a new and difficult route, also called putting up a first ascent, is like choreographing a difficult dance routine. Each movement has to be practiced and memorized to perfection so that not an ounce of energy is wasted looking for holds.

Bruce Becker, good friend and climbing partner of Odette, said that when done right climbing is an art, one that Odette has mastered.

"There is a certain grace and power required," Becker said. "And there is definitely an element of creativity involved as well."

In order to be a master of rock creativity, Chuck wastes no energy in his training regiment.

"Right now what I do for training is basically try to climb hard twice a week, usually Saturday and sometime mid-week, like Wednesday," Chuck said.

When cold weather comes around he's forced to train in his gym where he does conditioning exercises and weight workouts. One day a week he just climbs a lot of routes at the 5'11 and 5'12 range.

"Realistically the greatest advance I made in sport climbing came through being introduced to the Zone diet," stated Chuck. This Zone diet, fashioned by Dr. Barry Sears, is based on meals that consist of 30 percent fat, 30 percent protein and 40 percent carbohydrates. Odette examines every label and plans each of his meals to fit this regimented diet.

"Generally he is compulsive about his health and climbing," said Becker, laughing. Yet Becker also feels that Odette is like a Zen master.

"He does what is right for him," Becker said. "He does not look down on people for not wanting to do exactly the same, but is willing to be supportive of others' pursuits and achievements." He and Becker have been climbing together regularly on weekends for seven years.

His dedication to climbing and training have remained strong since his very first experience in the mountains.

"My first climbing trip was in 1979," Chuck explained. He took a Petzoldt climbing course in the Tetons. Paul Petzoldt was the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School, NOLS. This led to successful ascents of many of the 12,000 to 14,000 foot snow-covered peaks in the mountains in Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Washington and California.

Snapshot. It's 1981 and Odette is wearing Swiss-made, Rolffe ski pants, which are blue with a yellow stripe running down each side. The pants, cut off at the knees have been reworked into knickers complete with a pair of red and white Budweiser suspenders. His parka is dark, navy blue and is layered over his gray ragwool sweater, which is 75 percent wool and 25 percent nylon for flexibility and durability. His socks, of the same drab material, reach up to his knees. On his size eight feet are Vasque Ascenders, boots designed specifically for alpine style ascents. They have sticky rubber on the soles for climbing and good ankle supports for hiking.

Hair standing on end, Odette's form is positioned extremely close to the top of the 13,770-foot peak, the Grand Teton in Wyoming's Teton National Park. His thick, blond mustache tingles. The metal zipper on his parka buzzes like a swarm of bees.

So does his gear. None of the it--the old hexes, the Forrest T-shaped angle irons and the seat-belt material Forrest Harness that they hang on--is made anymore. Odette wants badly to reach the top.

"I didn't stand on the summit because it was full-on lightning and hailing," he said. "My two partners had to drag me off the route."

Odette's proudest ascents include the Cassin Ridge, a technically difficult alpine route on the highest mountain in North America, the Alaskan giant, 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley, also known by its Native American name Denali.

"I think it was the most committing route I've ever done," Chuck said. "It was also the most out-there thing I'd ever done. It's just an amazing route. Not only do you summit Mt. Mckinley, you do one of the harder technical lines." He also simul-soloed the Liberty Ridge on Washington's 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier, which means he and his partner didn't use a rope for the entire ascent.

Chuck's accomplishments also include reaching the top of hundreds of 80- to 3000-foot routes on all types of rock. He's danced up the yellow and white fissured granite slabs of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan, and the glossy conglomerate cliffs of central Utah's Maple Canyon, which resemble inverted cobblestone streets. He's also felt the sharpness of brown, angular quartzite of Big Cottonwood Canyon, and the rough, skin-chafing grit of the rust orange-colored sandstone walls of Indian Creek, Utah; Red Rocks, Nevada; and Smith Rocks, Oregon.

Another of Odette's proudest accomplishments is staying youthful. Grandpa or not, this finely tuned athlete and dedicated rock artist is as youthful as Leonardo Decaprio. Well almost. When his perfectly white, mischievous smile brightens up his face it's easy not to notice the tiny crow's feet next to his eyes.

"In order to feel young you have to think young," Chuck said. "That's been the key for me as far as maintaining a young attitudeą and physical appearance as well. I think young thoughts, I feel young. I feel, with a few exceptions, as good as I did when I was 20."

And he dates young.

"When I first saw him I thought he was some college kid," said Uresk. "He seemed sort of quirky."

"The first time I met him was when he tried to run me over," she laughed. "I was innocently trying to throw my garbage away when he came speeding around the corner at 60 mph, wellą maybe 3 mph, and all just to talk to me!"

"But if you ask him, he'll tell you that I was hiding around the corner waiting for him to get home," she smiled. "You know, so that I could jump out in front of him and make him stop and notice me because I thought he was so gorgeous and I had to meet him."

To maintain the life that he leads, Odette needs to stay youthful. For most of his life he has consistently worked 40 to 50 hours a week, most recently as a land surveyor and as part owner of the gym, which is on South Main Street in central Logan.

"I have to pay a lot of money to support my kids because they don't live with me," explained Odette, who has three kids by two marriages. Because of this he's had to work full-time, sometimes more than 50 hours a week in the summer.

"That's been a limitation on my climbing," Odette said. "I've had to be really focused in the time that I have left."

While it has been a limitation, it hasn't kept Chuck from being satisfied.

"I do much more specific training and target more specific aspects of climbing," he explained. "I do what I enjoy the most."

Odette used to crave pursuing all aspects of his art, such as alpine climbing, ice climbing, crack climbing and sport climbing. However, because his time restraints and financial responsibilities increased he's had to limit his climbing to what he likes best.

"Out of everything it's definitely sport climbing," he said. Very similar to gymnastics, sport climbing involves strenuous movements coupled with fine-tuned balancing skills and yoga-style flexibility. Sometimes while standing on a ledge no wider than the edge of a nickel, climbers have to lift their other foot to holds that can be by their shoulders. Odette's flexibility stretches to all parts of his life.

Snapshot. Scooby Doo is playing on the television as Odette watches his granddaughter, Mercedes, bounce around the living room in her little, blue Scooby dress. Odette's two daughters, 11-year-old Sierra and 20-year-old Meredith sit with Uresk near the six kindergarten-age kids who are playing with all the unwrapped toys. A demolished pink, frosted cake sits on the table, the three big candles licked clean of icing.

Climbing isn't Odette's only love. He also gets satisfaction from seeing his children and granddaughter, three of whom live in or near Logan. Seventeen-year-old Josh lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Meredith and Mercedes live in Logan and Sierra lives in Preston, Idaho with her mother. It's about a half an hour from Logan. Uresk remembered the first time she hung out with Odette he had Sierra with him.

"He seemed to really care about her," Uresk said. He included her in the conversation and asked her a lot of questions about school. Uresk and the Odette family, minus Josh, recently celebrated Mercedes' birthday.

"We had a great time," he said, smiling. "We just spoiled the hell out of her. There were tons of gifts. We had balloons, tons and tons of presents like Snoopy videos. I got her a highchair that fits with a doll she recently got."

While Odette's unusual lifestyle has resulted in the spread of rumors about him, he has also earned respect from many people in the climbing community.

"I am envious of anyone who has that much passion about anything," Becker said about Odette. "Most people go through life merely existing. Only a few people really have the passion to set goals and dedicate themselves to achieving them."

If you ask Odette about the rumors he just laughs.

"In order to be number one you must tell everyone that you are number one!" He explained with wide grin.


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