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Colin Haley: Young Alpinist on Fire
Posted on: May 21, 2008
Jed Brown and Colin Haley made the first winter ascent of Alaska's Mt. Huntington (12,240'), on March 12, 2007. Haley and Brown climbed to the summit via the West Face Couloir (aka Nettle-Quirk: V 85 degrees, 3,250'). [Photo] Jed Brown
At 11:00 a.m. on January 24, 2008, Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley stood on the summit of Cerro Torre after linking all four of the Torre Group's iconic spires in a single, alpine style traverse. Their success marked the completion of one of Patagonia's greatest problems.
To be sure, a great deal of groundwork had been laid—much by Ermanno Salvaterra—by the time Garibotti and Haley roped up. In 2005, Garibotti opened a new line on the north face of Cerro Torre—El Arca del los Vientos (VI, 1200m, Beltrami-Garibotti-Salvaterra)—that made the project seem just within reach. And in 2007, he almost completed the traverse using the new route. But the enchainment of these four peaks is one of the most captivating and elusive lines in the world, and the erratic Patagonian weather had always vetoed its completion.
After they’d completed the traverse, for many people, the story that emerged—the trip reports up on the web, the photo spreads in national magazines—was less of a retrospective into the project than it was a look toward the future. For Garibotti, the traverse was a culmination of 23 years of work. For the 23 year-old on the other end of the rope, it marked just the beginning. Colin Haley lives with his parents in Seattle, and sometimes signs his emails 'Skeletor.' His accomplishments are as undeniable as his youth.
Colin Haley. Alongside a cast of some of modern alpinism's greatest, Haley played a role in authoring some of the most significant alpine-style ascents of the past several years. Following a first ascent of Mt. Moffit's Entropy Wall with Jed Brown in 2006, Haley gained a momentum upon which he still seems to be capitalizing. In January the following year he made a new linkup, with Kelly Cordes, of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and the Ferrari West Face on Cerro Torre. Two months later, he and Brown claimed the first winter ascent of Alaska's Mt. Huntington. And two months after that, Steve House recruited him for the first ascent of a new line on Mt. Robson's Emperor Face. It didn't stop there... [Photo] Courtesy Colin Haley
While Haley's story is eleven years in the making, his past three have included an unprecedented number of big ascents from a climber of his age. Alongside a cast of some of modern alpinism's greatest, Haley played a role in authoring some of the most significant alpine-style ascents of the past several years. Following a first ascent of Mt. Moffit's Entropy Wall with Jed Brown in 2006, Haley gained a momentum upon which he still seems to be capitalizing. In January the following year he made a new linkup, with Kelly Cordes, of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and the Ferrari West Face on Cerro Torre. Two months later, he and Brown claimed the first winter ascent of Alaska's Mt. Huntington. And two months after that, Steve House recruited him for the first ascent of a new line on Mt. Robson's Emperor Face. It didn't stop there. With a college degree sidelined for the time being, Haley traveled back to Patagonia, to Central Asia and again to Alaska for more ambitious projects, many successful, all at an extremely high level of commitment. For a 23-year-old kid, running on a fraction of the experience of many of his contemporaries, his storyline seems unlikely. And those who have spent decades cutting their teeth on the worlds most foreboding peaks inevitably view it with skepticism.
It is most appropriate and educational for the layman to understand Haley through the eyes of these people—the veterans, his mentors. They have the proper perspective to view him in a broader context, because there have been others like him who are gone now. Haley is a 23-year-old on fire, neck deep in the most formative and crucial years of his life. But unlike many other young alpine climbers, he has proven an ability to undertake substantial projects and see them to completion on a very consistent basis. "Colin is 'different,' and different in good way," said Mark Twight. But everyone I spoke to agreed that would be a shame to present Haley as a "rising star." This is not the discourse of alpinism. Such an idea cheapens what he does—what they do. Rising stars and up and comers do not exist in alpinism.
Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley followed the Torre Traverse from north to south by starting up on Cerro Standhardt via Exocet, descending to the Col dei Sogni, climbing up Spigolo dei Bimbi on Punta Herron, descending to the Col de Lux, climbing up Torre Egger via the Huber-Schnarf 2005 route, descending to the Col of Conquest via Torre Egger's south face, up Cerro Torre via the upper portion of El Arca de los Vientos to join the Ferrari West Face route, and finished by descending via the Compressor route. They had a vertical gain of approximately 2200 meters. [Photo] Rolando Garibotti
The first time I spoke with Haley was on Thanksgiving Day, 2007. He had just finished another term of his undergrad geology studies at the University of Washington—a project he prefers to take in small, easily digestible bites—and was preparing for his, now, impressive 2008 trip to Patagonia, during which he completed the Torre Traverse, along with ascents of El Mocho, Cerro Standhardt, Desmochada, plus two lines on Fitz Roy. While Haley alluded briefly to the Traverse in our conversation, he was tight-lipped about his intentions, somewhat of a requisite trait in his line of work. We spent more time talking about the past, the Northwest, and the years that had allowed him to reach this level at so young an age.
As one might hope, Haley learned how to self-arrest long before he ever clipped a bolt. At age 12 he first pushed the plunger, releasing alpine climbing into his veins. All climbers can look back to the moment that grabbed them first—the feeling of pulling through a scary crux or the alpenglow on their first alpine start. For Haley, this moment was close to home in North Cascade National Park, a place where he came of age and would return to time and time again as he progressed—honing his skills and pushing his personal limits. In 1996, with his dad and brother, Haley ran the west ridge of Forbidden Peak. With fifth class climbing, glacier travel and legitimate exposure, one can only imagine the impact this experience had on the 12-year-old psyche. "Ever since then I've been kind of obsessive about climbing," he said. "I would devise all these tricks of hitching rides and taking metro busses out to try and get as close to the mountains as I could."
Colin Haley on Denali Diamond (Alaska Grade 6: 5.9 A3, 7,800', Becker-Graage, 1983) on Denali's (20,320') massive south face. "Forty-five hours and forty minutes later, he and Mark Westman became the fifth team to complete the route. In doing so, they may have also ushered in Denali's new alpine benchmark." [Photo] Mark Westman
From that point to now, at a narrow and uninformed glance, the level Haley's accomplishments have reached compared to his age might make sense if they were charted on an exponential curve. But after following his progress over the years, a more steady, linear growth becomes apparent and his presence alongside Garibotti, or Steve House on cutting-edge climbs at age 23 comes as less of a surprise. In alpine climbing, commitment is relative to experience. "I was pushing myself just as hard in high school as I am now," said Haley. "It's just that no one outside of the Cascades has heard of Mt. Johannesburg, Graybeard Peak, or Chiwawa Mountain."
For someone with aspirations like Haley, there is no better place to push oneself in the lower 48. Washington is the ideal training ground for the world's greater ranges. The approaches are never cake. The ice is often rotten, the rock often chossy. Everything requires a bit of elbow grease and character. Those mountains see a lot of snow, and a lot of rain and it's no wonder that some of the United States most accomplished alpine climbers—Steve Swenson, Steve House, Jim Nelson, Tom Hornbien, Mark Twight—logged their time there. With these peaks, often called the American Alps, in his backyard, Haley was able to take on projects in line with his level of skill and acceptable risk, building a strong foundation from which to launch into the more elite realms of alpinism, where he climbs today alongside men decades his senior.