Pioneer rock climber and legendary Aspen ski patroller Harvey Carter was one of my early mentors — and he even rescued me — more than once. Harvey passed away this past March 13 in hospice, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Harvey was a HUGE influence on me when I was in my 20s and had taken up rock climbing as what I thought was my life’s work. I got pretty good at it, but of course eventually shifted to my decades-long focus on ski mountaineering. The thing is, any chops I have as a climber I indeed owe to Harvey.
The second time Harvey saved me was when he dropped down Keno gully off the backside of Aspen Mountain and hauled me to safety in a patrol sled. But the first time, he talked me up a climb in Yosemite that almost killed me. A force in my life.
Fall, 1971, Harvey Carter invites my girlfriend and I on a climbing trip to Yosemite. (I’d been out in the Valley one other time, but hadn’t done much climbing due to weather and inexperience). After a late night arrival, the three of us head for a classic Yosemite free climb. It starts with what’s known as a bombay chimney, which is exactly what the words picture: a slot that narrows as it gets higher, thus forming an inverted funnel. At the time, experienced Valley climbers had developed techniques that allowed them to climb up such features like they were marching up a sidewalk — I hadn’t a clue. Instead, I nearly died. Harvey saved me by talking me up the climb.
The chimney epic with Harvey was an epiphany for me, as it revealed a secret of climbing and mountaineering skill. I realized that strength and technique were big, but that hard climbs always go past the physical. If I wanted success on hard natural climbs (as opposed to climbing gym walls and rock with numerous artificial anchors), I’d have to control my mind. I needed a place to go where peace reigned — where I could focus on one thing alone: moving up one rock flake or ice crystal at a time, or hanging by a ski edge on the side of a mountain, as single minded and purposeful as a human being can get. For years I’d work on finding that place, and sometimes I did. Thanks to Harvey Carter.