From August 6-12, 2017, Quinn Brett shared some stories and photos for the #alpinistcommunityproject. Based out of Estes Park, Colorado, Quinn is a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park and has become known for her big-wall speed and free climbs in Zion and Yosemite in recent years. In her original bio for this series, she described herself as someone who “enjoys challenging others to handstand contests and swigging a frosty IPA.” She said she snorts when she laughs and her inability to sit still is probably the largest driving force for attempting any of her endeavors.
On October 11, she slipped during a speed ascent of the Nose with Josie McKee and fell 100 feet onto a ledge. She was air-lifted to safety and has been in the hospital ever since, and is currently paralyzed from the waist down. A donation page has been set up under her name at YouCaring.com to help cover the extensive medical bills. More of her writing and photos can be found at quinnbrett.blogspot.com.–Ed.
I worked for a small guiding company in Estes Park for many years. In our tiny mouse-infested guide hut, someone had hung a photo of Heidi Wirtz and Vera Schulte-Pelkum standing beneath El Cap assuming the now iconic Nose Speed Record pose. I glanced at the photo for many seasons, pondering the possibilities. In late 2011, I shared a weeklong guiding course with Jes Meiris. She spoke of autumn plans that included a few weeks in Yosemite to attempt climbing the Nose in a Day with a male friend. I swooned, finding courage to ask if she had interesting in vying for the women’s speed record. She said yes, both having only climbed the Nose once. We began our “training” January of 2012, arriving in the Yosemite Valley for our full effort June of 2012. We broke the speed record on our second attempt. The record has now been smashed again, but this experience opened my eyes to the potential of my energy and the endless opportunities in Yosemite and beyond. I have since climbed two routes on El Cap in one day with Libby Sauter (Lurking Fear and the Nose) and have climbed seven big walls in seven days in Yosemite (the Nose, Lost Arrow, Leaning Tower, Watkins, Washington Column, Half Dome, and Liberty Cap).
In early winter 2011, I was guiding and wintering in Phoenix, Arizona. My incredible athlete friend and housemate, Craig Randleman, announced he was going to bike from Florida to Alaska. Along the way he wanted to stop at various climbing locations. He dreamed of including an excursion to Lotus Flower Tower in northern Canada. Lotus Flower Tower, I asked? He exhibited a photo, and granite dreams filled my mind. Immediately my first expedition was in the planning stages. Craig and I rallied two more friends to join the trip. In mid-July three of us, minus Craig, met up in Seattle, renting a car. We would haul north to meet Craig somewhere between Laird River and Watson Lake. It was vague; it was perfect. Sometime in July, midway through Craig’s eight-month journey, we noticed his bike lying against a quaint little breakfast joint along the small two-lane highway. We squeaked to a halt and piled Craig’s gear in the van, and he continued to bike to our destination town. After gathering the finishing supply touches in Watson Lake, the group drove to Finlayson Lake, took a float plane to a fantastic cabin and then onward to the glorious Cirque of the Unclimbables for 16 days. Even with persistent rain spells we managed to climb the Lotus Flower Tower and a handful of other routes. After our climbing journey, Craig continued his bike trip, finishing his cross-continental bike ride at Denali!
How I ended up in Greenland: In early 2013 I reached out to Lizzy Scully. We both lived in Estes Park, and she had established herself in the early 2000s as a wicked strong climber with a penchant for new routes. I told her of my desire to do more expeditions, knowing she was a badass veteran of many. I lacked the know-how, partners, blah blah. She took me under her wing, we schemed locations and sent out many grant applications. We were awarded the Copp-Dash and a Gore-Tex grant. I then convinced one of my favorite people, Prairie Kearney, to join. Lizzy convinced John Dickey and the rest is history. We climbed four new routes, didn’t get eaten by polar bears and still loved each other to pieces. Climbing trips can come together with a lot of personality, which this definitely had, but our ability to make music videos, play water sports on the rainiest of days, and chug wine kept morale high. Can’t wait for the next adventure–Madagascar 2018!
People joke that Lumpy Ridge is “the best worst place to climb.” The place offers a lifetime of climbing–some of it is steep, but you are mostly on your feet doing thoughtful and tedious jamming. When I moved to Estes Park in 2003, I was enamored with the vast amounts of climbing around town. I was also star-struck, having just arrived to the land of badasses. Tommy Caldwell, Kelly Cordes, Josh Wharton, Paige Claassen and my eventual climbing mentor Douglas Snively. All of these people were crushing, running circles at elevation and climbing/establishing hard routes. Douglas and I ended up climbing together on Lumpy once a week for nearly 10 years. He would hand me a rack, usually minimal, and point me up routes. I eventually stopped crying on lead, and I found a rhythm and confidence to work my way up the grades. Last summer I poked my head around the Renaissance Corridor, a steeper shady side to Lumpy that holds some of the hardest lines. I spent a few days hucking around on the tiny holds on near-vertical terrain before finally clipping the chains on this line, Dakota (5.13b).
Max Barlerin had his mind fixated on the south side of Fitz Roy even before our 2016 season began. As soon as we arrived to El Chalten, we could tell the season was warm, luring us to more pure rock climbing terrain. Weather in Southern Argentina is fickle; previous seasons teased us with minor weather windows or none at all. Max rallied our friend and co-worker Mike Lukens and me to scope out his intended new line by climbing a nearby spire on our first foray of the trip. The southern faces are usually iced over and too cold most seasons (southern hemisphere = warm north faces). The South Face looked ripe. A quick two-day turnaround in town led us into another six-day stretch of good-looking weather. We huffed ourselves and all our gear up a 3,000-foot hill to Piedra Negra, dodged crevasses across the Fitz Roy Glacier, and simulclimbed 60-degree snow to reach The Brecha (“Gap”). After a half-day of sunburnt lounging, empanada eating and scoping the parts of the mountain we could see, we made the decision just to give a new line a rip the following morning. Our backup plan, kind-of jokingly to appease Mikey who really wanted to summit Fitz Roy, was to climb the famous California Route. No backup needed, 12 hours later we stood on top. Our crew from Colorado having just climbed one of the best Yosemite-style granite splitters of my life on FITZ ROY!! We named our line the Colorado Route (5.11c, 500m).
I just love Zion. Yes, it is busy with tourists, like most national parks, but not as busy with climbers as Yosemite or even Rocky Mountain. The contrast between the red sandstone walls, the brilliant blue sky and the greens and yellows of the foliage gives my heart a little flutter. The rock climbing is engaging, generally not as straightforward as that of Indian Creek. Upon first arrival I was intimidated because of Zion’s reputation of loose rock and sandy slabs. Now, having spent multiple seasons there in both spring and fall, I have come to adore Zion as a second home–and it still can feel intimidating! My first season climbing in the canyon, I climbed The Headache, Iron Messiah and wall-camped on Prodigal Sun. Last year I climbed four big walls in 16 hours with Libby Sauter, rope soloed Touchstone Wall in 5 hours and became the first woman to free climb Spaceshot. Libby is pictured here on Touchstone Wall during our linkup. I hope to continue my autumn-spring cycle of visiting the heart-healing desert and soothing waters of the Virgin River. I have my eye on a few more rock climbs and I need to quit dragging my feet on another long-term goal of mine: running the Zion Traverse, a mega trail run across the entire park, width-wise.
Oh, the Diamond. I initially thought I would talk about otherworldly places, but this one…. I continue to be enraptured by this mountain. The many scrambles, the classic hand cracks…. As of last season my head has been turned by harder routes like the Honeymoon is Over (5.13c). At 14,000 feet this mountain can take your breath away. If you have climbed this mountain, you know it’s special. Loose rock guards the Diamond headwall, and those with less alpine travel experience can suffer high consequences or cause harm to others if they are not aware of their rope or their feet, or of the way they pull on the rock. The climbing ranger staff has responded a few major traumatic incidents on Longs Peak in recent years. In addition to learning how to travel gingerly in alpine areas, it is important to remember that many of our weekend “playgrounds” are designated wilderness areas that demand more out of us to preserve for future generations. In my 15 years living in Estes Park, I have seen first-hand changes in RMNP. Bouldering areas are incredibly popular and crowded with more trash, more chalk, more social trails. The same goes with alpine climbing areas. Last [summer] there were 25 people climbing in the Chasm Cirque (Longs Peak), making for a noisy and nail-biting alpine experience for some. The more people fall in love with climbing, the more used and fragile these places become. Don’t just take adventure from the mountain, give back by speaking up and cleaning up!