Adventure addiction by Aaron Mulkey

“Yes Sir, I will have another.” Sitting at one of the oldest bars in Cody, Wyoming, the wood grain ran continuously like a topographic map for nearly 25 feet down the bar. The bartender was exactly what you would imagine in an old Wyoming bar. His beard was down to his chest and his leathered skin showed he had lived a life outside. The “Make America Great Again” hat was par for this town. I got a very judgmental look when I ordered a cider and he asked if I was from around here. I said “Yes Sir, I am. I’ve been here for over 20 years roaming these hills.” He said “These hills used to be untouched, but things have changed. Adventure is dead! You can pick up your phone and see any place on the map nowadays.”

Is adventure dead?

I don’t think so. But I do believe people have become comfortable following the road most traveled. Information is more available today than ever. Photos, videos or satellite images make the world visible to the masses from any armchair. Guidebooks have eliminated some of the risks and has made the unknown…known.  Most people will always choose the knowable versus the unexplored. It’s self preservations at its finest. But what about the places you can’t Google?

Those are the places I am in search of.  

For me, I have spent the past 20 years avoiding the trailheads and following a snaking, game trail into the mountains. My passion is seeking first ascents or, as my friends would like to call it, “long walks in the mountains.”

This year has been no different. As of February 1st, I have completed 17 first ascents this season and my work is not complete. “It’s an addiction” my wife would say and well…I would have to agree, it is.

"Glass Animals", ph Dane Steadman

It’s the unknown frozen waterfalls and hanging daggers that keep me up at night. My time is spent searching some of the United States’ most remote landscapes. The South Fork valley in Cody, Wyoming is home to some of the highest concentrations of ice in the United States. This small valley located 37 miles outside of Cody, is a high alpine desert covered with cactus and sagebrush. A unique alpine world rises straight out of the valley floor for four or five thousand feet, providing some of the best ice gardens in the world.

Working on new route "Lethal Weapon", ph Dane Steadman

This season started in early October with a near miss on a delicate new route I had bolted back in September. The previous Spring, I spotted the dagger as it was about to disappear for the next 5 months. I was getting antsy in September waiting, so I figured why not bolt the mixed route now instead of waiting until winter? A month later, I showed up and, to my surprise, the giant dagger was touching the ground, by a fingertip. Knowing the structure of this pillar was going to be very weak because of our very cold temps, I tip-toed my way onto the ice. Unfortunately, even tip-toeing was not light enough, and the dagger came crashing down. Thankfully, everyone was safe and I was able to come back to send the route two weeks later.

Next on the list was a very early season alpine crag that provided incredible conditions, given that our winter arrived early this year. Most of the routes I knew would only be good for a week or two before they dried up and disappeared.


First ascent of "Teachers Pet", ph Dane Steadman

As the season went on, our rampage of first ascents continued with a higher than normal energy level to suffer through the long hiking distances in some of the roughest terrain in the lower 48 States.

New route, no name yet, ph Chris Guyer 

Unseasonably dry snow conditions allowed us to navigate the hills more easily than normal. I would say many of our first ascents would have been multi-day trips if It hadn’t been so dry.

Carter Ice first ascent, ph Christian Baumeister

So far, we have had many late nights getting back to the car, but the psyche to explore still runs high. Seasons like this just fuel my appetite for first ascents. Get a few under your belt and the appetite grows, but the meal is digested as soon as the day is over. Each day, it consumes me again, until I find the next one.

 New route, ph Christian Baumeister

 

Article by Aaron Mulkey, March 2020.  

First ascent of Warpath, ph Chad Dokken

 

Few are as dedicated to ice climbing exploration as Aaron Mulkey, who has spent the last decade systematically scouring the canyons of northern Wyoming and Norway for undiscovered ice lines. Seeking untouched frozen treasures deep within Wyoming's toughest mountain terrain, he often trudges for days in his boots, testing his own limits, and the patience of his climbing partners. But, the occasional gems he discovers fuel his determination, pushing him forward to find the next untapped treasure. As the ice begins to melt, Mulkey trades in his ice tools and climbing rack for a kayak and paddle. The exploration continues, this time through the spectacular watery gorges buried deep in the Rocky Mountains. His year-round hunt for uncharted ice and water in some of the most remote locations in the West makes him one of the most prolific pioneers of the Rocky Mountains.

 Aaron Mulkey was born in 1977 in San Diego, California and today lives in Cody, WY. He joined the Grivel team in 2011. He was dubbed the “Patriarch of Cody Ice” for his 100+ first ascents in the Wyoming area. Favorite Grivel products: the Dark Machines and G20 crampons.