Alpinist

Alpinist

Since 2002 Alpinist has striven to push creative boundaries with award-winning climbing journalism, photography and art. With our podcast, we are extending our conversations with climbers and community members into interviews and oral histories, with everything from dramatic and humorous adventure tales to in-depth discussions of the most significant issues in climbing today.

All Episodes

In June 2020, Chantel Astorga soloed Denali’s Cassin Ridge in less than 15 hours, setting a women’s record and making the first known ski descent of the Seattle Ramp during the approach. She recalls one particular moment after skiing through a dangerous icefall and spotting an eagle: “I’ve never seen a large bird in the Alaska Range up that high, and it was thermaling above me, and I had this wonderful sense of peace and calmness… I’d gotten through this thing I was most terrified of, and I did it in as good a style as I could, and as safely as one can do something like that alone.” Today, Astorga makes a living as an avalanche forecaster in Idaho. She received an honorable mention by the Piolets d’Or awards in 2018 for a new route that she completed on Nilkanth (6596m) in India’s Garhwal Range with Anne Gilbert Chase and Jason Thompson. In this episode, she talks with Derek Franz about her early days as a climber when she was rope soloing ice climbs and skiing Denali in oversized, second-hand gear, and the path that led to her recent success on the Cassin Ridge. [Photo] Chantel Astorga This episode is brought to you by Rab Equipment. Audio Production by Nick Mott.

Nov 18

43 min 38 sec

Mike Gardner was 16 years old when his father, a respected climbing guide, died while free soloing on the Grand Teton in 2008. Mike has suffered the loss of other loved ones since then, yet he continues to climb and guide in the Greater Ranges as well as the Tetons where he grew up. In that time, he and his partners have completed some impressive fast-and-light ascents using a strategy of “ski-alpinism.” In this episode, Derek Franz interviews him about a remarkable spring 2021 season in Alaska, his formative life experiences, and how those inform the risks that he continues to face as a professional climber. “I don’t have a really clear, well-thought-out answer…why I go to the mountains when there’s so much hurt and tragedy there for me,” he says, “yet there’s so much joy, and the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these paradoxes….” [Photo] Evan Miller This episode is brought to you by Rab Equipment. Audio Production by Nick Mott.

Nov 16

54 min 21 sec

Pete Takeda is a world-renowned alpinist who started climbing on boulders as a kid in Idaho. He has pursued every climbing discipline over the last several decades, from hard free climbing to big wall aid, as well as ice and mixed climbing. His first ascents range from ephemeral mud towers to some of the most impressive peaks in the world. In this episode, Derek Franz interviews one of his childhood heroes on a wide variety of subjects, from climbing and writing, to life philosophy. [Photo] Jeff Rueppel This episode is brought to you by Rab Equipment. Audio Production by Nick Mott.

Nov 15

34 min 21 sec

Besides free climbing big walls, Madaleine Sorkin devotes herself to social activism, and has been a leader in starting the Climbing Grief Fund through the American Alpine Club. In this interview from April 2021, Derek Franz asks about her first climbing experiences as a teenager; her perspective as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community; how she is coping with the wear and tear on her body after nearly two decades of hard climbing; and also the latest developments with the Climbing Grief Fund. [Photo] Henna Taylor Audio production by Nick Mott. This episode is possible thanks to the support of listeners like you. If you enjoyed this episode please consider supporting our work with a one-time or recurring contribution.

Jul 7

29 min 14 sec

Anna Pfaff grew up in rural Ohio, running through cornfields, playing softball and showing animals at the county fair, “but I always felt like there was something more out there,” she says of her decision to apply for a nursing job in Denver, Colorado, at age 20. “I had no idea what a climber was, or what rock climbing was,” she recalls of the life-changing opportunity that came when friends invited her on a trip to Indian Creek. There, she discovered a natural ability and interest that culminated with her joining The North Face team in 2016. Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz interviewed Pfaff remotely in April 2021 while she was rehabbing a shoulder injury. [Photo] Tyler Stableford Audio production by Nick Mott. This episode is possible thanks to the support of listeners like you. If you enjoyed this episode please consider supporting our work with a one-time or recurring contribution.

Jun 23

39 min 10 sec

In this episode, Derek Franz narrates “To Look the Bear in the Eye: The Life of Yasushi Yamanoi,” a story by Sartaj Ghuman that was first published in Alpinist 62 (Summer 2018). Yamanoi is among the few who have established new climbs, alone and in alpine style, on 8000-meter peaks. His many significant climbs earned him a Piolet d’Or Asia Lifetime Achievement Award, but the Japanese alpinist is disinclined to self-promote. In this story Ghuman joins Yamanoi as a liaison officer on an expedition in the Zanskar region of India in search of a deeper dialogue with the wild.   [Photo] Yasushi Yamanoi collection This episode is brought to you by Rab Equipment. Audio Production by Nick Mott.

Dec 2020

56 min 32 sec

In this episode, Chris Kalman narrates “Less Rich Without You," a story by Nick Bullock that was first published in Alpinist 68 (Winter 2019-20). The story chronicles Bullock's attempt to climb a new route on Minya Konka, a 7556-meter peak in Sichuan Province, China, in 2018. At age 52, on his twenty-fourth expedition, he and Paul Ramsden make their way through the hazardous maze of an icefall amid heavy mist and falling snow—and through the allures and pitfalls of a modern professional climbing life.   Narrated by Chris Kalman. Audio Production by Nick Mott.   [Photo] Nick Bullock   This episode is possible thanks to the support of Rab | The Mountain People.

Nov 2020

51 min 20 sec

For 141 years since its first ascent, mountaineers from around the world traveled to climb la Meije in the Massif des Écrins of France. Meanwhile, the permafrost that held its stones together was melting. On August 7, 2018, rockfall destroyed much of the normal route. In this On Belay story from Alpinist 68 (Winter 2019-20), Benjamin Ribeyre and Erin Smart recount a search for a new way up the peak amid the uncertainties of the planet’s future. Narrated by Willow Belden. [Photo] Benjamin Ribeyre

Oct 2020

41 min 56 sec

Scott Coldiron grew up in a low-income family with his single mother and two siblings near the remote peaks of Montana's Cabinet Range. He wrote in Alpinist 64, "Since childhood, I've found solace in harsh landscapes. Friendships formed on mountains insulate against a howling emptiness." After serving in the Iraq War and overcoming a subsequent debilitating illness, he built a career as a firefighter for the City of Spokane, Washington. Today, he explores rugged first ascents in ranges around the world, including the mountains he once gazed upon with wonder as a boy. Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz interviewed Coldiron at the Winter Outdoor Retailer in January 2020.   Coldiron is pictured here climbing in an area known as the Thunderdome in the Cabinet Range. [Photo] Brian White

Oct 2020

52 min 40 sec

"Mark Twight began his self-described “descent into the black depths of extreme alpinism” in 1984. “This obsession,” as he wrote in the essay, “Kiss or Kill,” “destroyed my relationships, drove me into depression, and changed me from a happy, future-hopeful young man into an embittered cynic.” Twight is well-known for pushing the margins, both in his climbs and in his writing. In 1988, he and Randy Rackliff made the first ascent of “The Reality Bath,” a 600-meter ice climb in the Canadian Rockies that has yet to be repeated. That same year, Twight joined Barry Blanchard, Ward Robinson and Kevin Doyle in an alpine-style attempt of Nanga Parbat’s Rupal Face. The climbers reached 7700 meters before a storm forced them to retreat amid lightning and multiple avalanches. In his writing of the same era, Twight often adopted a bold, brusque voice that earned him the persona “Dr. Doom.” Now a classic of mountain literature, the 2001 anthology Kiss or Kill includes writing that helped canonize the Dr. Doom persona, who delivered lines such as, “The new climbs of the age are yesterday’s death routes,” and “Punish your body to perfect your soul.” Twight stepped away from extreme alpinism in 2000. In his recently released book of photography, Refuge, Twight reflected, “Twenty-five of my years were governed by the demands imposed by mountains and climbing them, and the most difficult challenge I faced after having survived was to find satisfaction in the valley.” Deputy editor Paula Wright spoke with Twight at the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival in November 2019. [Photo] Mike Thurk"

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Sep 2020

58 min 17 sec

In this feature story from Alpinist 64 (Winter 2018-19), Brette Harrington writes about her life partner, Marc-André Leclerc, who died in the Mendenhall Towers of Alaska, with Ryan Johnson in March 2018. About a month after their deaths, she traveled to the Canadian Rockies to immerse herself in the wintry alpine landscapes that remind her most of Leclerc. Exploring unclimbed terrain on Mt. Blane, accompanied by Rose Pearson, she tries to reorient herself within the void of all she has lost. Narrated by Kathy Karlo. Brette Harrington and Marc-André Leclerc on the summit of Great Sail Peak, Baffin Island, after a one-day ascent of the West Buttress (5.12a, C1, 1100m) in 2016. [Photo] Josh Lavigne

Aug 2020

32 min 51 sec

In 2011 alpinist and speaker Margo Talbot published her memoir, "All that Glitters: A Climber's Journey through Addiction and Depression." In her book, she reflects candidly on her struggles with addiction and depression, as well as how ice climbing played a role in her recovery. Toward the end of "All that Glitters," Talbot writes, “In my years of searching, I had arrived at my own philosophy of life, the essence of which was that existence is a precious gift, and that every moment, whether in the throes of joy or the pit of despair, is equally to be treasured.” Deputy editor Paula Wright conducted this interview with Talbot at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in November 2019. [Photo] Alain Denis

Jul 2020

36 min 43 sec

In this Full Value story from Alpinist 60 (Winter 2017-18), David Stevenson gets caught in a storm returning from a hut trip in Alaska and suffers a heart attack, forcing him and his partner to spend a cold night in a shallow snow cave. In the aftermath he discovers a new significance to a haunting experience that happened decades earlier in his childhood home. Narrated by Matthew Richardson. Audio production by Nick Mott. [Illustration] Andreas Schmidt

May 2020

13 min 45 sec

In this inaugural episode of Alpinist Aloud—a podcast project in which stories from our print magazine are read out loud—James Edward Mills reads his story from Alpinist 60 (Winter 2017-18). In “The Force of the Soul,” Mills recounts the life of Hugues Beauzile, the son of a Haitian immigrant who became one of the most promising young alpinists in France before his death on the South Face of Aconcagua 1995. Produced by Alpinist magazine and Height of Land Publications. Audio production by Nick Mott.

Apr 2020

30 min 53 sec

Chris Weidner began climbing as a teenager in the Pacific Northwest and is no stranger to being pinned on the summit of Mt. Rainier in a storm. The 45-year-old climbs 5.14 sport routes and continues to establish new free routes on the Diamond of Longs Peak and elsewhere. He has also written more than 300 articles related to climbing—for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, Alpinist and other climbing magazines—since about 2007. Weidner recently told Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz, "I think it's important to say that, along with these close relationships and the family feeling that climbing has given me over the years, I feel like it's also made me value lightheartedness.... And it's helped me realize that there's pretty much nothing in life worth stressing too hard about.... The other thing it reminds me of is just how important it is to be kind to people."

Jan 2020

32 min 7 sec

Growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Kai Lightner learned to climb before he could walk. One day, when he was six years old, a passing stranger saw Lightner climbing a flagpole and handed his mother the address of a local climbing gym, and he hasn’t stopped climbing since. The winner of twelve national climbing titles, Lightner is a familiar face in the climbing competition circuit. Then in 2016, Doug Robinson—an outspoken voice of the clean climbing revolution in the 1970s—invited to take Lightner climbing at Stone Mountain, a trad climbing destination in North Carolina. Lightner wrote about the experience for Alpinist in Issue 55. “Before [that] trip,” Lightner reflected, “I'd never really thought about—or appreciated—the evolution of our pursuit from the traditional techniques of his generation to the sport I first encountered as a child.” In November 2019, deputy editor Paula Wright spoke to Lightner about the trip to Stone Mountain, and how his discipline as a climber transcends aspects of the sport.

Jan 2020

33 min 44 sec

“We need to acknowledge mountaineering as a profoundly social pursuit…. I strongly resist the idea that there is a kind of objective kind of excellence in mountaineering. The road to mountaineering achievement is not level. We need to understand where someone is starting from if we really want to understand what the road to the summit for them is like.” Literature professor and mountaineering scholar Amrita Dhar grew up in West Bengal. As a child, she vacationed in the Himalayan mountains with her family, and she has since spent a lot of time traveling through and thinking about mountains and the narratives that emerge from them. In this episode, Dhar talks with managing editor Paula Wright about how addressing some of the gaps in mountaineering history might also lead to reconceptualizing the pursuit of mountaineering itself.

Nov 2019

40 min 40 sec

In this episode, Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz interviews Jeff Achey, a prolific first ascensionist and author who lives in Western Colorado, where he co-owns Wolverine Publishing with his wife Amber Johnstone. After learning to climb in the Shawangunks as a teenager, Achey moved to Boulder, Colorado, for college and soon found himself roping up with some of the most prominent climbers of the era. That path led him to explore new routes across the state, from Eldo to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and into Utah’s Canyonlands, where desert towers dotted the landscape. He finished school with a Bachelor’s in biology and went to work as a photo editor for Climbing. Now 60 years old, he continues to establish difficult new routes while maintaining his writing career as a guidebook publisher.

Oct 2019

34 min 14 sec

“Perspective is a curious lens,” climber and forest ranger Robbi Mecus says. “If I never turn my gaze to the side, my interpretation of the world becomes static, unempathetic. Changing my vantage point brings me a fuller understanding. It brings me compassion. My life has been a constant shifting of perspective.” In the first part of this episode, Mecus talks about some of her earliest climbing memories and her work in search and rescue. In the second part of the episode, Mecus reads from her Alpinist 65 essay “Perspective,” in which she reflects on how coming out as transgender has shifted her lens on climbing.

Sep 2019

26 min 24 sec

"Mountains have always been the sharpest mirrors for me: they've simplified, purified and clarified my life, and have reliably shown me the better side of myself," Geoff Powter writes in his new book, Inner Ranges: An Anthology of Mountain Thoughts and Mountain People. "But there is also, of course, a more complex other side of the mountain equation," he says. In this episode, we sit down with longtime climber and writer Geoff Powter to discuss a few of his adventures, as well as the challenges and rewards of chronicling life in the mountains.

Sep 2019

38 min 37 sec

Climber, father and house painter Chris Kalous launched the climbing podcast The Enormocast in 2011. In this episode, Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz sits down with Kalous, a longtime friend, to rehash memories from the glory days and discuss where he sees himself — and podcasts — going in the future.

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Mar 2019

40 min 43 sec

In 1969, at the age of nine, Barry Blanchard sat on a Greyhound bus as a young woman read to him from the pages of the mountaineering classic, The White Spider. Five decades later, alpinist and mountain guide Barry Blanchard recalls how the call of the mountains transformed his life.

Mar 2019

42 min 13 sec

“How often do we, as climbers, reach out for abandonment?” Claire Carter asks. “Leave the ground to find a swinging freedom; bitter-cold, bittersweet.” In this episode, we sit down with poet, climber and creative consultant Claire Carter to discuss some of her recent projects, including her efforts to retrace some of the travels of Gwen Moffat, a legendary climber and writer who had become Britain's first female mountain guide in 1953, and which she wrote about for Issue 57 of Alpinist magazine.

Mar 2019

37 min 13 sec

In 1972, barely out of high school, Doug McCarty and Brian Leo completed the first winter ascent of the North Face of 12,799-foot Granite Peak—only to endure an icy bivy on the remote summit. In this episode, McCarty reads the story he wrote for Issue 63 of Alpinist magazine, in which he recalls the ghostly "strange music" that helped him survive more than four decades ago.

Jan 2019

50 min 16 sec

From the time he led his dad up the Diamond of Longs Peak at age fifteen, Derek Franz has long been “obsessed with all things climbing.” After graduating college with a journalism degree, Franz has worked as a freelancer while living crag-side and written an award-winning column for the Post Independent. He joined Alpinist as the digital editor in the autumn of 2016. In this episode, Franz talks with associate editor Paula Wright about the highs and lows of chronicling life in the mountains.

Dec 2018

49 min 35 sec

Since she first offered to waltz around on stilts in a purple leotard at the 2002 Summer Outdoor Retailer, brandishing Issue 0 of Alpinist, author and illustrator Tami Knight has been a friend of the magazine. Over the years, her contributions have included such cartoon classics as The Alpine Oracle (“Before ya leave on yer next climbin trip…”) and The Climbing-Lit Editor’s Nightmare (“Hey Writers! Use these moldy phrases in yer manuscripts & win me a cup of burnt coffee”), in addition to more serious fare (the Squamish Mountain Profile, spanning decades of climbing lore in British Columbia). Now, in conversation with Alpinist associate editor Paula Wright, the irrepressible Tami Knight goes beyond the page as she shares stories from her early climbing days and her funniest untold tales yet.

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Sep 2018

32 min 27 sec

In June 2002, a wildfire erupted about 100 miles southwest of Denver, Colorado. What became known as the Hayman Fire burned for over a month, resulting in the death of six people. The fire blazed through nearly 140,000 acres—at the time, the largest fire in the state’s recorded history. It also consumed popular climbing areas, including Thunder Ridge. In this episode, journalist Nick Mott explores the impacts of the Hayman Fire, and what the rising rate of megafires might mean for climbing communities across the country.

Aug 2018

25 min 26 sec

“We all have emotions that eventually bring us to self-awareness, if we let them. Beneath every curmudgeonly old soul is the ability to share a passion and appreciate something that makes us feel deeply…. It’s true—climbing does not change you. But having a passion for something is what will.” Kathy Karlo is a climber, writer, and the director of the website and podcast, both titled “For the Love of Climbing.” In this episode, Karlo talks about her Alpinist 61 article, "Climbing Doesn't Change You," and how writing openly about vulnerability within the context of climbing can be a radical act.

Jul 2018

33 min 6 sec

“Mountains strip us layer by layer until our core is exposed, raw and vulnerable.” Whitney Clark is a professional climber who has established several alpine routes around the globe. She also spends a lot of time thinking about how to balance risk and ambition in the mountains. In this episode, Clark opens up about how she approaches decision making in the alpine—whether to bail or climb on—and how those moments ripple on into the future. In the second part of this episode, Clark reads her essay, "A Few Seconds," which first appeared in Issue 58 of Alpinist magazine.

Jun 2018

21 min 11 sec

In this episode, Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft shares a story about a winter attempt of Sisnaajini (Blanca Peak) with Len Necefer, the founder of Natives Outdoors, and pro skier Brody Leven. Along the way, the climbers learn more about the Indigenous history and stories surrounding the mountain. Chris Zabriskie’s music available courtesy of https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Jun 2018

24 min 54 sec

In 2003 Nick Bullock quit his steady job as an instructor in the Prison Service to climb and write full-time. His 2016 ascent of Nyainqentanglha Southeast (7046m) in Tibet with Paul Ramsden won the climbers a Piolet d’Or the following year. In this episode, Bullock discusses his path to climbing and the Alpinist article he wrote about the Nyainqentanglha climb, which won an award from the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in 2017.

May 2018

30 min 49 sec

“If someone is raised to spend time in the outdoors it will be something that they do without question; they won’t wonder whether or not it’s something that they’re supposed to do based on their ethnic or racial identity or how they go through life…. Unfortunately too many people in our culture and our society are deprived of that opportunity.” An avid climber and the author of The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, James Edward Mills has worked in the outdoor industry for decades. As team journalist, he chronicled the 2013 journey of Expedition Denali, a project conceived to put the first team of African Americans on the summit of the highest point of North America. In this episode, Mills talks with associate editor Paula Wright about the adventure gap and the relationship between mountaineering and the civil rights movement.

Mar 2018

40 min 42 sec

After he graduated from college in 1996, Jimmy Chin hit the road, planning to climb and ski for a year before heading to grad school. Twenty-two years later, he’s still adventuring in the mountains. In this episode, we discuss Chin’s life growing up in small-town Minnesota as the son of Chinese immigrants and his path to adventure photography. Plus: his take on filming Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Cap and skiing with his daughter.

Mar 2018

37 min 53 sec

Perhaps no other writer has explored Cold War and post-Soviet era mountaineering more than Bernadette McDonald has. In this episode, Bernadette McDonald discusses her award-winning book, Art of Freedom, a biography of Voytek Kurtyka, one of the most accomplished, and reclusive, alpinists of our time. Known for his philosophical approach, Kurtyka believed in the transformative power of climbing. He wrote, “When we entrust our faith to an absurdly beautiful mountain, we are being true to our vocation…. This is why I find climbing to be one of the most encouraging and exhilarating efforts of my life. This is the drug of mountaineering—the liberation.”

Feb 2018

41 min 20 sec

In 2002, Mayan Smith-Gobat was in a ski accident and broke her jaw and both feet. Within a few weeks, she turned her focus to climbing and began training while her feet were still in casts. Nine years later, she became the second woman ever to free climb the Salathé Wall on El Capitan. Today, she’s concentrating on Riders on the Storm, a 1,300-meter big wall on the icy east face of Torre Central in Chilean Patagonia, which still hasn’t had a free ascent. For more on this climb, check out Smith-Gobat's article "Stillness and Storms" in Issue 55 of Alpinist magazine. 

Feb 2018

37 min 12 sec

Many climbers observe the voluntary climbing ban at Bear Lodge (Devils Tower) in Wyoming during the month of June as their way to show respect for local Native American cultures. In this episode, journalist Nick Mott discusses the voluntary closure with local climbers and Indigenous leaders, to learn more about their views on the history.

Jan 2018

32 min 21 sec

In the 1990s, after more than a decade of climbing in the Sierra Nevada, Jim Herrington embarked on a journey to photograph some of the most formidable mountaineers of the past generation. In this episode, rock-and-roll photographer Herrington discusses his recently released coffee-table book The Climbers and some of the stories from behind the scenes. Plus, a tribute to Fred Beckey. More at alpinist.com/podcast

Dec 2017

36 min 17 sec

At altitude, many mountain communities are already experiencing the severe consequences of climate change. Climbers have reported witnessing the effects of warming temperatures as well, from receding glaciers to increasing rockfall. In this episode, associate editor Paula Wright discusses climate change impacts on mountain environments with climbers and researchers, including Mark Carey, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa and Alison Criscitiello. For more, go to alpinist.com/podcast.

Oct 2017

24 min 59 sec

Author and mountaineer David Roberts reads his essay "Death and Climbing," which first appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Alpinist.

Oct 2017

27 min 15 sec

By 1965, at age 22, David Roberts had witnessed three fatal accidents in the mountains. Over 50 years since, Roberts has explored in writing what makes climbing worth the risk. In this episode, Roberts discusses an article he wrote for Alpinist 56, in which he revisits “moments of doubt.”

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Sep 2017

32 min 18 sec

In November 2016, while attempting the unclimbed Lunag Ri (6907m) with David Lama, Conrad Anker suffered a heart attack and had to descend from the climb to be evacuated by helicopter from advanced base camp. In this episode, Anker recalls the event and considers the effects on his career as an alpinist going forward. More at alpinist.com/podcast.

Aug 2017

34 min 35 sec

Why does story telling seem so essential to the climbing life? In this episode, we interview two climbers—Tommy Caldwell, whose recent book The Push traces his life from diapers to the Dawn Wall, and Bree Loewen, the author of Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue—on why their mountain travels ignite the desire to write. About the show: Since 2002 Alpinist has striven to push creative boundaries with everything we do, from award-winning climbing journalism and creative writing to photography and art. Now, with the Alpinist podcast, we aim to extend our conversations with climbers and community members into interviews and oral histories that will entertain and educate our listeners with everything from dramatic and humorous adventure tales to in-depth discussions of the most significant issues in the climbing world today. More at alpinist.com/podcast

Aug 2017

28 min 40 sec