Climber still tough at 80

Apr 202011
Authors: Rachel Childs

Robert Kelman has never had a spiritual epiphany at the top of a mountain. He has never seen God or heard angelic voices after squeezing through a crack jutting from the earth. And at 80, Kelman still just loves to rock climb.

The former chair of the CSU Computer Sciences Department took up rock climbing in 1971 when his son wanted to take lessons. His son gave up on it, while he dedicated himself to the sport.

“I started climbing in the local areas a lot, and it’s one of these things you find enjoyable. Some people don’t, but I did,” Kelman said.

Scaling rocks fit into the grandfather of six’s fitness-heavy lifestyle. He maintains his thin physique by free-lifting weights and doing pull-ups with up to 30 pounds on his back.

This routine was compromised for five months after a 20-foot fall at an indoor climbing facility left Kelman with four fractured vertebra, yet the injury did not crush his hopes.

“If you get a big injury, you tend to accept it,” he said.

Kelman spoke to a group of 20 in The Institute of Teaching and Learning Building Auditorium on Wednesday about his climbing adventures in Vedauwoo, Wyo. during an event sponsored by the CSU Outdoor Club.

Climbing coordinator Ryan Beam met Kelman at a wide-crack climbing workshop and wanted to share the instructor’s knowledge with other outdoor enthusiasts.

“It’s inspiring. He’s 80 years old and still climbing. Who else does that?” Beam asked.

Kelman has kept in contact with the club since he started climbing and continues to climb and hike with people he has met.

The talk revolved around Kelman’s second book, “Rock Climbing at Vedauwoo, Wyoming: Climbs of the Eastern Medicine Bow National Forest,” which maps out the various crags that climbers can scale by difficulty and location. The climbs have titles such as “Flaming Blue Jesus” and “Morning Sickness,” several of which Kelman named himself with his climbing partners.

Eric Winne, an avid 22-year-old climber, ventured to Vedauwoo with friends recently and heard of Kelman’s speech while climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir.

“I have his guide book,” Winne said. “It’s definitely one of the better guidebooks out there.”

Kelman knows every aspect of the area, going into full detail of every side of the site. He has seen a plethora of dedicated climbers, from a 5-foot-2-inch woman spinning 180 degrees in a wide crack to a woman scaling “Morning Sickness” while seven weeks pregnant.

The enjoyment of twisting through the earth keeps Kelman going, and that’s all he needs.

“It is a very satisfying experience for those of us that enjoy it, and I don’t think it needs a second justification,” Kelman said.

Staff writer Rachel Childs can be reached at

All about Kelman:

  • Started climbing in 1971 when his son wanted to take lessons and kept climbing even after his son stopped
  • Is retired now but was once the chair of CSU’s Computer Sciences Department from 1983 to 1989 and a faculty member before that, starting in 196
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