Words & Photos by Skratch Athlete Aaron Mulkey // Coldfear.com// Hyperlite Mountain Gear
It’s February, and I have been chasing ice for the last four months. My body and mind are completely in sync, and I feel like all of my training since April of last year is paying off. I have logged over 200 miles chasing unknown ice monsters in the mountains. I like to call them monsters as you have no idea what they will look like and how big or scary they might be. This is also what adds to the excitement of chasing the unknown. As I write this, I have collected 17 new routes so far this Winter. I am willing to bet that many of those have never been seen by a human. That’s pretty exciting.
The season started off with a bang–literally–when this large pillar broke just as I was transferring onto it. Thankfully, I knew there was a 50/50 chance of this happening, and we took all of the precautions. Everyone was okay, and we all walked away.
The mountains did give us a consolation prize as we hiked out. Post holing all the way, my climbing partner Justin tripped over large paddles, barely sticking out of the snow. He showed no hesitation when deciding to carry it out the remaining miles.
As the season went on, I was lucky to have some solid partners that were willing to hike far and climb fast. We were able to tick off some fantastic ascents. Some came as a surprise as we rounded a corner on an established route, and others we just got lucky on hikes into unknown territory.
One day, we hiked over 12 miles on off-trail side-hilling talus fields only to come around a corner two hours before dark and find two large ice falls. My partner and I looked at each other and made the decision that it was going to be a long night. We figured we had hiked all the way in, and we weren’t going to let darkness scare us away. We were able to climb both new ice routes, and when we hit the ground just as the sun was setting, we were on a high that even a long-suffering hike out wasn’t going to take away. Two hours later and not even halfway back to the car, that high did end, but we put our heads down after the last rappel in the dark and moved on. We reached the car at 10 pm, 15 hours after we’d left it. But, three first ascents made it all worth it.
With only a couple of months left chasing these ice monsters, I couldn’t be more excited for some more epics in the mountains.
Within the world of ice climbing, he's known for his relentless and unconventional approach to the pursuit, prioritizing labor-intensive explorations of new locations and lines over chasing audiences in established ones.
It's safe to gamble that the word "pioneer" is bound to find its way into any description of Mulkey. Whether he's in his backyard in the Cody, Wyoming region he calls home (he's established over 100 first ascents in the area alone), or in some isolated backcountry around the globe, big mileage hikes or multi-day scouting missions to find unclimbed routes or potential ones for the next winter keep him up at night and get him going in the morning. The less that's known about what he's set out to scale, the more he can approach it with an uncluttered, unbiased mind and make the endeavor his own.
What's more, in this day and age of carefully curated Instagram goals–#vanlifing, and the ubiquitous inspiration that comes from, "quitting X and selling everything for 'the dreams'"–it's oddly rare to see a spotlight shown on an individual who, while incredibly talented, balances the development of that talent against the amount of free time and day-to-day responsibilities the rest of us can relate to. Mulkey works a full-time job as a VP of Sales and Operations managing around 800 employees for a large health care company; he's married, and has kids, too.