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The Journey


On their second attempt on Lotus Flower Tower, both questionable weather and a few unplanned diggers on the part of Ian precluded any climbing.

After several days of rest and rain we gave the wall another go, despite low clouds and high humidity. “What a great day!” Ian announced as we set off in the dark. I grunted in agreement, trying to see it as such. How were his symptoms really? Moments later his sticky rubber approach shoes betrayed him as he slipped off a wet boulder and whacked a knee. Continuing, we discussed the need to listen to the body, and I suggested baby steps: if he did not really feel that ‘it was a great day,’ perhaps we should lower our expectations. No response. Ian was gone. He’d pitched off the bus-like boulder bridging the transition from grass to glacier — the only no-fall spot on the entire approach. Somehow, Ian escaped with only a big flapper on his thumb. Perhaps he didn’t want to hear my sermon.

Ian proudly displaying his only injury of the day—a thumb flapper sustained during a fall off a bus-sized boulder on the approach. [Photo] David Barnett

Exposure. [Photo] Ian Altman


Tossing the ropes for the first of many rappels down the route. [Photo] Ian Altman

We spent the morning napping at the base of the route and I decided to keep my mouth shut. Clearly, he had a system that worked, having made three successful climbing trips to Patagonia, first ascents in the Bugaboos, and is the founder and a yearly participant in the CT Jamboree, an annual mountain bike ride for MS awareness.

I became fixated on many mountains throughout the world but one that had always remained in my dreams was the 2000 foot southeast face of Lotus Flower Tower. This mountain had become a focal point in my climbing career since I developed MS and finally reaching its summit left me with a powerful epiphany. And as many climbers and mountaineers will tell you- the top is not all that matters! I realized that it was more about the journey then the destination.

Two days later we enjoyed beautiful weather, fine health and splitter cracks that deserve their place in Roper and Steck’s Fifty Classic Climbs, climbing to the top in ten hours flat. During our final days in the meadows below those granite spires, Ian said MS was one of the best things that ever happened to him. It motivates and inspires him, and forces him to find ways to feel good.

Being around him forced me to do the same.

Ian Altman on the Summit of Lotus Flower Tower after their third attempt on the pinnacle. [Photo] David Barnett

Looking back, I see now what a valuable source of humility I was given. I soon learned that climbing could become a useful tool for both understanding and controlling my illness. Today, after living with MS for ten years, I feel even more drawn to the rocky, icy steeps of the world and truly see my disease as a gift which has given me the motivation and courage to go big in the realm of alpine climbing.

—Ian Altman

—David Barnett

Bios: Ian is currently the director of Colorado Timberline Academy’s art department and the head of the school’s accomplished climbing program. When he is not busy sharing his climbing wisdom, Ian keeps himself connected with the outdoors by participating in summit climbs all over the world. To date, Ian has successfully reached the summits of Poincenot in Southern Patagonia, Argentina, Aguja de La S in Patagonia, Argentina, Aguja Innominata in Patagonia, Argentina, Aguja Guillaumet in Patagonia Argentina, a ‘first ascent’ on the North Crescent Spire in British Columbia, the West Buttress of the South Houser Spire in British Columbia, and the Lotus Flower Tower in the North West Territories of Canada.

David Barnett is a two-time Ritt Kellogg Fund recipient, a 1996 Colorado College Graduate and a Ritt Kellogg Fund Advisory Committee member since 1998. During the inaugural grant season in 1995, David ascended Mt. Sliverthrone in the Alaska Range. In 1996, his second grant allowed him to ascend the Sultana Ridge of Mt. Foraker also in the Alaska Range. David has more than fifteen years of rock and alpine climbing experience and his record of accomplishment includes adventures in Yosemite, the Bugaboos, the Tetons, the North Cascades, Rocky Mountain National Park the Black Canyon and Canyonlands. David has extensive experience as an outdoor educator, from which he has gained a keen understanding of wilderness safety and environmental ethics. He is currently a fellow of the Natural Resource Ecology Lab based in Fort Collins, Colorado, where his invasive species research work keeps him close to the public and private grant funding pros.

Self portrait of Ian and David on the summit of Lotus Flower Tower. The pair ascended the Southeast Face Route (V 5.10) on their third attempt. [Photo] Courtesy of Ian Altman

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