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Colin Haley: Young Alpinist on Fire
As Haley Reports in his May 29, 2007 Trip Report on Alpinist.com: "We climbed the face in two long lead blocks, both seven pitches long. My block had longer pitches (about 80 meters on average) and moderate climbing on WI3-5 ice slopes connected by short, M4/5 rock steps. Steve's block had normal-length pitches (about 55 meters on average) and much steeper and difficult climbing, especially in the last few pitches. At the top were two pitches of M7, and Steve was fully on his arms for the final 30 meters of the route." The photo shows Haley leading during his block. [Photo] Steve House
Winter character-building in the North Cascades was instrumental in Haley's growth. "When I was 17," Haley said, "my friend Mark Bunker and I went and climbed the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Johannesburg—in winter—up in the North Cascades. And I think, to this day, it's still the hardest climb I've done relative to my experience level at the time. We just got totally worked. It snowed like a foot every day we were on the route—and we were on the thing for five days. It was super windy. My sleeping bag and jacket were just lumps of ice by the end of the trip. We ran out of fuel and ran out of food. The last bivy we were, basically, genuinely hypothermic. It was just a full-on epic. If I were to do the same climb today, I don't even think I would rope up on much of it. But at the time, it was really pushing things for me, you know. I'd never pitched a bivy tent on a little ledge before, or slept tied in."
If you ask rangers in the North Cascades, they all know Colin Haley. They've known him since he was a teenager. All the old school guys like Fred Beckey keep tabs on him. All the nameless alpinists in the northwest have watched him come up. "That kid's been getting after it," they'll say. In many ways, he's still the hometown boy. But there seems to be a time around 2006 where all that he'd been doing around Seattle, all the routes he'd been climbing, reached a critical mass with enough inertia to carry him away from the Cascades. Since then, he's ramped up the intensity and commitment of his climbing, and of his goals.
One of the things people like to report about Colin Haley is the fact that when he was a kid he had pictures of Cerro Torre on the wall of his bedroom. How touching to think of the boy who dreamed of big foreign mountains and then grew into a young man able to climb them. But the fact that the great ranges of the world have been in Haley's mind's eye since the time his friends were playing little league is quite real. He was captivated with these peaks most have never heard of—Gasherbrum IV, Mt. Waddington. Eventually, trip reports with his name on them started trickling in from these places. By reading them you could almost feel his growing ambitions.
From reading Haley's writings about his climbs, along with the reports from his partners, a powerful determination is clearly evident in his approach to climbing mountains. Garibotti described his style as "very motivated; giving up is not an option." On he and Kelly Cordes' new link-up on Cerro Torre, Haley tunneled vertically inside the unstable rime guarding the summit, a technique for which Black Diamond built a prototype "wing" that could be fixed to the head of an ice tool in order to give more purchase. He emerged thousands of feet off the deck in overhanging snow, and then proceeded to aid through this undesirable ground using snow pickets. Indeed, many would have balked at the option. Haley described the undertaking as "a bit tenuous."
"The thing is," he said, "when you're placing a picket way above your head on vertical rime, it's really, really hard to get it angled steeply. It's basically just going in perpendicular to the slope. So, it can slide out really easily. I stood up on one, and placed the other one up over my head. As soon as I stood up on that one, the movement of the rope basically pulled the first one out. The only decent piece of protection on that whole pitch was the massive V-thread I'd created by tunneling up through the rime."
Haley's ability to improvise and creatively approach solutions is apparent in many of the details in his trip reports. In his article detailing the first ascent of the Entropy Wall on Mt. Moffit (read this March 1, 2007 Trip Report for details), he describes the journey back to the front-country from the face. He and Jed Brown used a tiny inflatable raft with a snow shovel as a paddle to cross the not-so-tiny Delta River. The synergy of this sort of resourcefulness, his uninhibited motivation, a growing record of impressive ascents—not to mention a willingness to skip school based solely on an email (like the one from Steve House with a simple link to the weather forecast for Mt. Robson)—eventually brought Haley into the collective consciousness of North America's elite alpine climbing community. "Colin is super capable and very motivated. Partners like that are hard to find," said Garibotti. "His resume is far fatter than most of the 'sacred dinosaurs.' He is climbing stuff that is far more serious than most people his age. The kind of alpinism he practices is not very popular these days; less among young people."
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