2014 Golden Piton Awards: Alpine


Kevin Cooper Ryan Jennings Golden Pitons
Photo: Ryan Jennings

Winners: Kevin Cooper and Ryan Jennings

Coloradans Kevin Cooper, 48, and Ryan Jennings, 41, both have full-time jobs. Each has two kids. They’re about as far from full-time climbers as you can get. But here’s the thing about alpinism: Experience counts. A lot.

Cooper and Jennings have been climbing together for more than 17 years, and they first targeted the 4,000-foot north face of Mt. Johnson, above Alaska’s Ruth Gorge, in 2003. However, while descending from a warm-up climb on the Moose’s Tooth, a rappel anchor failed, and they tumbled 1,000 feet to the glacier, both with injuries and lucky to be alive. Both feel that few climbs justify extended time away from families—and serious risk—but returning to Mt. Johnson was one.

When they reached the foot of Mt. Johnson in 2014, a line of thin ice ran down the left center of the wall. They spent two days finding a way past the huge roofline near the bottom, and then fixed two ropes for their final push. Thin, sticky névé coating the face was not too strenuous to climb but nearly impossible to protect. The two simul-climbed in “pitches” up to 700 feet long, with essentially no pro, relying on nerves and skill. They reached a bivy ledge just as the sun began to rise.

The next “day” lasted 40 hours, with only a two-hour nap in the middle. Above their rest ledge, the névé began melting away as they climbed—just a day later and it would have been gone. The two persevered to the summit, completing the climb of their lives.

Two Questions With Kevin Cooper and Ryan Jennings

Kevin Cooper Ryan Jennings Golden Pitons
Photo: Ryan Jennings

What makes your partnership work?
Jennings: Trust.
Cooper: Respect.

Where do you dream of going next?
Both men: Patagonia.

See more 2014 Golden Pitons winners: