Aaron Mulkey and partners have already climbed more than 10 significant new ice and mixed routes in the area around Cody, Wyoming, during this exceptional ice season, and more are likely coming. With the annual Cody Ice Climbing Festival coming up this weekend, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Aaron and ask him about his climbing.
Did you grow up in Cody? How long have you been climbing ice around there?
I was born in San Diego, but spent most of my childhood living in Fresno, California. I moved to Colorado in 1995 and began climbing ice that winter up in Boulder Canyon, back when they were farming climbs off the aqueduct. I began making a few trips to Cody for ice climbing, and I found a job opportunity that let me make Cody home in 1999.
Is this an unusually big year for Cody ice, or does it just seem that way because more new routes are showing up on the Internet?
This is probably the best year I have seen since moving here in 1999. Many obscure routes that have not been seen in years are in very well this season. The Alex Lowe route Mean Streak came in this year, and it had not seen a second ascent since he did it in the 1993/94 season. It's one of the most amazing lines in the South Fork Valley, and I was super-psyched to climb it twice. It was in for a few days and then began delaminating, and who knows if we will have to wait another 20 years for it to return? Many of the climbs we have ticked off I have known about and have just waited for them to come in. Others I have been just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
What accounts for all the new routes this year?
Honestly, the reason we have been successful putting up new routes is I have done years of recon missions both on the ground and in the air. I have established over 100 new routes over the years now, and that has come with some great days climbing as well as some long days of hiking and no climbing. Many of the new routes are outside the South Fork area or entail pretty long hikes. You just have to be willing not to climb every day. Some days are spend exploring new areas.
Tell us about Chris Alstrin's new film, The Pursuit. What's it all about?
The Pursuit is a film about my obsession with exploration. I hope that people walk away from the film stoked to get out and explore their own backyards. No matter where you live, there is always somewhere to find adventure. You just have to be willing to walk a little farther then the last person.
The film is being shown at various premieres and film festivals, and will also be available to purchase very soon. People can like Coldfear.com on Facebook for updates.
How do you find the time to do all these new routes?
Unfortunately I’m not a kept man and my parents keep telling me I don’t have a trust fund, so I do have a job. My sponsors (Rab, Scarpa, Cilogear, Grivel, Beal Rope, and Sweet Protection) take care of me, and I’m incredibly grateful for their support, but I still need to have a job. I oversee sales and operations for the Rocky Mountains for a large home pharmacy company. I also owe huge thanks to my regular partners who all make it happen: Tanner Callender, Stephen Berwanger, Chris Guyer, Shawn Gregory, and Kevin Craig.
You've traveled a lot to climb ice. What makes the climbing around Cody unique?
Cody has very little population and a ton of terrain to get lost in. I'm not a huge fan of snow, so climbing in the desert landscape of the South Fork Valley is perfect. The town of Cody has maybe five or six ice climbers, and there's no large city nearby, so I see very few climbers. Even on a classic ice route in Cody, it can still feel like you’re the first one to climb it.
Don't you ever get tired of ice climbing?
Can that happen?