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Colin Haley: Young Alpinist on Fire
Haley on the East Buttress of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley. [Photo] Kelly Cordes
But time and time again, the veterans of alpinism mentioned that Haley's unbridled motivation is what might ultimately get him into trouble. While he exhibits "wisdom beyond his years" in some cases, according to Mark Twight, "some other of his comments [recounting climbs] indicate a lack of maturity to balance that wisdom, which is expected and not at all negative." In many cases, alpine climbing is akin to a game of Russian roulette. Steve House stated, "The most important thing is for Colin to survive the next ten years. For now, he is still young and still learning."
While Haley might be a breath of fresh air in a generation of climbers that appears to be losing the alpine aesthetic, he is still among them in terms of years out of the womb. "Colin has had some fantastic successes," said House, "but it is important to understand that the most impressive one (The Torre Traverse) has been with a partner much more experienced than he who generally led the cruxes and masterminded the strategy. There is nothing wrong with that. It is an immeasurably valuable set of experiences he has accumulated."
Kelly Cordes had similar thoughts, saying, "Sure, Colin has a lot to learn, and who doesn't? Nobody I know—check that, nobody I know who's still progressing and doing impressive things, whether on an absolute world-class scale or on their own personal scale—has stopped learning. I think it's rad that Colin's been able to climb with some partners who've been around the block a bit, and learned from that. Hell yeah, that's awesome, and I doubt he takes it for granted. But we should also remember that he didn't get to the point of climbing with folks like Rolo [Garibotti] and Steve from being a random bumbler. None of the more veteran partners he has would be willing to climb with him if he hadn't already shown something."
In 2007, House invited Haley along for an attempt of one of his long-time projects: the Emperor Face of Mt. Robson in the Canadian Rockies. House had attempted the route tens of times, the first a decade ago with Barry Blanchard; a legend in North American alpinism and mentor to House. Despite the team's successful first ascent of a new line, Haley had difficulty—possibly due to a viral infection he'd been suffering from. "You have to understand that Colin is still a young man, and alpine climbing is very complicated," said House. "He was bummed because I wanted to bring, and brought, a video camera that weighed 14oz. I thought he was going to mutiny over that camera. And when he discovered, high on the route, that he had left his cell phone in his jacket pocket, I thought he was going to jump."
Haley had put up a first ascent on the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies with the man who climbs at the highest level in the world. But he made some mistakes, wasn't feeling strong on the second day, and had possibly rubbed House the wrong way. But these types of mistakes are a part of learning and growing as a climber, a process to which House can attest. After being dubbed 'the great white hope of American alpinism', House dropped his and Barry Blanchard's stove on the exact same face of Mt. Robson. Blanchard wrote: "The pump to the stove has gone down the face, and with it all of Steve's pride and self-worth. The man is suicidal and I worry that he is going to jump, or slash his wrists with his ice axes." One can assume that House sees elements of his past in Haley. He warned, "The climbing media and the outdoor industry should be careful not to put too much pressure on young alpinists whose hobby can so easily be fatal." These are sage words, as there have been many prolific alpinists who, after reaching public consciousness, fell victim to the mountains that so inspires them-the late Mugs Stump being perhaps the most obvious example.
Even if Haley ever was an 'Up-and-Comer,' he is not now. Not anymore. He is already there, as Garibotti said, on the cutting edge of alpinism. The Torre Traverse is the clearest evidence of this. Peak enchainments are thought to be the next frontier of alpine climbing. While they've become an established type of problem in the Alps, climbers have dreamed of what potential this paradigm might hold for some of the larger, more remote ranges around the world. Garibotti and Haley's traverse represents the application of this idea to one of alpinism's most sacred temples—the Torre Group. Beyond that, for Haley, it was a foreshadowing of what's possible in the years to come.
For now, we wait and see what happens next. We'll try to keep Haley's character in perspective, and try to keep the hype in perspective. Most importantly, we'll hope that he has the maturity to do the same. But soon, in the American Alpine Journal, in Alpinist, or somewhere on the web, there will be a new trip report from Seattle's own. It will be very well written; engaging, respectful, full of drive. It will most likely take place on a plane of epic achievement in some corner of the world, on some big, lonely mountain. Old, young, seasoned, or just beginning, it will undoubtedly inspire us to get out into the mountains and get after it.
A smiling Haley. [Photo] Courtesy Colin Haley