Harvey Carter’s Saves – RIP Harvey

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 15, 2012      

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.

Colorado climbing.
Harvey Carter in Glenwood Canyon, 1975. Michael Kennedy photo.

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.

Aspen Times article.

More photos of Harvey here.


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27 Responses to “Harvey Carter’s Saves – RIP Harvey”

  1. Zahan Billimoria June 5th, 2008 10:57 am

    very well written, and insightful.

  2. Lou June 5th, 2008 11:11 am

    Thanks Zahan!

  3. Joel June 5th, 2008 11:47 am

    yup – I got sweaty palms and fingertips reading it. That feeling of sheer terror, with death a distinct possibility as you hang on a tiny flake in the wall with a bloody nub of a fingertip is not ANY fun for me. Hence, I don’t really climb anything like that anymore. Great piece of story telling though. It definitely took me to a place I haven’t been in a long time.

  4. Teletim June 5th, 2008 11:47 am

    wow…Lou, just wow……..I read your blog almost every day and that is the most riveting post you have ever made in my humble opinion.

  5. Scott B June 5th, 2008 1:31 pm

    I’ll second Teletim’s comment.

    It really makes me think about how climbing is so much more exploration than that of the outdoors.

  6. Steve Pulford June 5th, 2008 1:51 pm

    Lou, don’t let your mother read that.

    Well done from my opinion though! Some people would never climb again after an experience like that, and others take it and learn from the fear to become better. Interesting study in psychology…

  7. Scott Nelson June 5th, 2008 4:48 pm

    Riveting. Felt like I was right there. I think my heart rate even went aerobic for a few moments. Did your girlfriend ever come back?

    The older I get (and hopefully a little wiser) I realize how powerful the mind is, and just how much influence it has over us. Much greater than just brute strength, like you said. Unless of course your…sport climbing 🙂

  8. Lou June 5th, 2008 5:19 pm

    Scott, that was indeed a defining moment. No stories about former girlfriends, however. Those’ll have to wait till I’m 90 — or at least a 6 figure book contract (grin).

  9. Scott Nelson June 5th, 2008 5:23 pm

    Thanks for the link to the article on Harvey Carter too. Good story. I’ve had a few defining moments too on some of his routes on the Pass. Did he always climb with just a rope around his waist? You guys were hardmen!

  10. Michael Kennedy June 5th, 2008 6:05 pm

    Great story, Lou … really brings back memories of my own brushes with the infinite. Amazing how you can focus when you don’t have any other options.

  11. Lou June 5th, 2008 7:06 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys!

  12. Eric June 5th, 2008 9:51 pm

    Well said Lou. I think you’ve expressed the reason many of us do what we do. It’s not the “adrenaline” as many think, but the calm, totally focused state of mind required when pushing your limits.

    Are you still trying to find that place?

  13. Kristina June 5th, 2008 11:36 pm

    Very interesting post Lou. 😉

  14. Lou June 6th, 2008 4:13 am

    Eric, yeah, always, and in many different parts of life…

  15. Split June 6th, 2008 8:56 am

    I read your website quite often and this has to be one of the best pieces i have read here. Of course it does not hurt that i am more of a climber than skier, but those moments of clarity are part of any sport that has consequences.

  16. andyw June 6th, 2008 10:28 am


  17. BillL June 6th, 2008 3:39 pm

    Reminds me of a couple of climbing events long ago:

    The first where I got past the thought that “I might as well jump, ‘cuz I’m gonna fall and die anyway” (Shanashee). After the second, somewhere high on the Redgarden Wall in Eldorado, my buddies and I decided that the difference between an adventure and an epic is the degree of tragedy potential.

  18. Gentle Sasquatch March 15th, 2012 9:05 am

    Great story – and a clear confirmation that this type of climbing was not for me. It takes bigger rocks than what I have 😉

  19. Scott Nelson March 15th, 2012 9:31 am

    Sorry to hear about this Lou. A lot of us have been able to enjoy (or be terrified of) his routes on Indy Pass. I was always amazed at how a lot of those routes were put up in the 60’s without modern day gear. He was always someone I wanted to meet. Seemed like he embodied a real colorful and totally adventurous life. Thanks for sharing your stories about him.

  20. Ted Mahon March 15th, 2012 9:37 am

    Thanks, Lou.

  21. Zach Lentz March 15th, 2012 3:57 pm

    Awesome story, and one that conjures up images from my experience on the first pitch of Royal Arches there.

    Cheers to the man who put up so many of the routes we, and generations to follow us, will climb for decades to come.

  22. Ryan J March 15th, 2012 4:19 pm

    Cancer, blah:( So unfortunate that anyone be taken this way but even more so when it’s someone who had been so “Balls” throughout life and survived it all only to be taken by this horrible disease. Hopefully we find a cure some day. Great story Lou, yes my hands are sweaty after the read and I too am reminded why I origionally fell in love with the oddness of “climbing” and that feeling of control that we often have to summon. The power you recieve from moments like that transcend into all aspects of life and I’m sure it helped Harvey maintain clarity till the end. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Kristina Thorpe March 15th, 2012 6:15 pm

    A life well-lived.

  24. Lou March 15th, 2012 7:21 pm


  25. Simon05 March 16th, 2012 4:06 am

    I first read about Harvey Carter some years ago in the Alpinist journal. It was an article by Steve Bartlett and it talked of his amazing life and how he and author did a first ascent on Tanner Dome ,5.9, when Carter was 73 years old.
    This guy is a great insparation, to being doing what he loved the most for a whole lifetime into old age is fantastic, a true insparation to anyone thinking they are past it in middle age. RIP Harvey.

  26. Patrick March 16th, 2012 1:26 pm

    Fantastic story Lou.

    RIP Harvey.

  27. Justin Lukasavige March 19th, 2012 9:35 am

    I just heard about this and stopped by to see if you wrote on it, Lou. I heard of Harvey’s influence in your life.

    I found out Harvey lived close to me and I was planning on contacting him. I love hearing stories and learning from guys like him. It’s a shame I’ll never get to do that.

    We owe a lot to him in the community, though many people will never know it.

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