We love having Jim on our roster of guides. His sense of humor is infectious. You may find yourself busting out jokes with him in minutes. At times you’ll ask yourself is he joking, and he may be… but when he’s serious which he also is often, you’ll know it. Jim has a great way of making you feel at ease immediately. He exemplifies what we think of when we think of what a good guide is. He’s someone you’d follow into a place which is far out beyond your comfort into that adventurous, yet scary place, that we all want to go to but wouldn’t go alone. He exudes trust and experience. He’s climbed extensively in the San Juans and all around the world. He’s climbed the Central Alaska Range, the Canadian Rockies, Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, Argentine and Chilean Patagonia (Fitz Roy via two different routes), back home in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, many desert towers, and first ascents in the Southwest desert, the Central Alaska Range and Patagonia.
We asked him about being a guide. Here’s our Q&A with Jim T.
Rock or Ice? Which do you love to climb more?
I’m a climber year round… the only thing that changes is what I wear. But I’m a grass is greener person. In March I can’t wait to drop the boots for some rock shoes. In Rocktober I can’t wait swing the tools.
How long have you been a San Juan Mountain Guide?
Since I escaped from prison and changed my name.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Massachusetts and I will always root for New England sports teams.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Who said I want to grow up?
Where did you first climb ice?
My first climb was Willey’s Slide on Mt. Willard in New Hampshire, sharing 1 set of tools on a multi-pitch Ice Climb. I bought my first tools and poons that evening. They are probably still on my credit card.
Did you have a mentor?
I have had exceptional mentors in my life. The one who stands out the most is Mark Miller.
What do you think every climber should learn?
I think every climber needs to learn (and practice) getting off the damn internet!!! Get outside, have fun and enjoy the people you are climbing with.
Maps or GPS?
What do you like to do on your day off?
I love hanging out with my wife and our dog and trying to convince them to go fly fishing. (the dog always goes.)
How different are your personal days from your guiding days in the mountains?
The best days guiding are very similar to my personal days.
Before you pack for a trip in the mountains does your packing resemble one of those neatly arranged ads or a messy gear ball on the floor?
I just take as little as possible and plan on being scared and hungry.
What was the most memorable trip you’ve guided?
Legally or otherwise?
How many pairs of gloves do you wear for ice climbing? What are your favorite gloves for Ice climbing?
2-3. Depends on the temps, thin dexterous gloves
What are your favorite ice tools?
Black Diamond Cobras
What boots do you wear ice climbing?
Asolo Eiger GV (Thanks Bruce! They are awesome boots!)
What’s your favorite all-round pack?
Hyperlite Ice Pack
One piece of advice for an aspiring guide? Don’t you have a joke about pizza?
I never planned on being a guide, I just had great mentors and went climbing. Go climb for a decade and then start thinking about if you want guide.
(Note. We did an extensive background check to make sure Jim has a clean criminal record, he does. We also found out he has a degree in Environmental Science from the University of New England. So that part about liking the Patriots was no joke.)
The Elite Mixed Competition originally started by Jeff Lowe has historically been a wild, world-class event! This year our own San Juan Mountain Guides’ Andres Marin joined Vince Anderson for setting the Elite Mixed Competition route. After having participated as a competitor in World Cup Climbing Competitions and in this same event for years, Andres got to put a touch of his style into the setting of the route. We asked Andres a few questions about what it was like behind the scenes.
Q. How does the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition compare to the World Cup?
A. The Ouray Ice Festival Elite Mixed Competition is the biggest competition like it in the US and it’s unlike any other. It has real rock, real ice, and it’s a wild competition. The route has been a bit of a wild card. This year both routes (men and women’s) started with grabbing holds with your hand.
Q. What do you think about when you’re setting a route?
A. We all have our own styles of climbing and each setter has their own style. So you try to imagine how the climber is going to see the route, and we all have our own way of seeing, which is cool because we each bring our own creativity to the mixture. You don’t want everyone to send. You don’t want everyone to not send. Ines read her route as it was intended, like you would in the mountains. She pulled the crux move. I was hoping she made it to the top.
Q. What was your vision for the climb?
A. Our vision for competition was for the experience to be just like climbing in the mountains. Sometimes you have to put your tools away and use your hands. It was a mixture of alpine climbing style, adding in the Russian holds, and putting it all together. Some climbers were so focused on their tools they forgot about other possible movements.
Q. What were some of the challenges in creating the route?
A. The biggest crux was a week before the competition. Everything came down to the eleventh hour. We had planned the moves based on Krukonogi holds from Russia. These holds are made only for mixed climbing and most often used in the World Cup, when they got held up in customs, and got sent back. Krukonogi drove them to Finland and shipped them from there. The box arrived in Ouray just six days before the competition. Then the morning of the comp, with the holds finally in place it was still unclear if there would be ice between the route and the bottom of the structure. Up until an hour before the competition the Ouray Ice Park, Ice Farmers were out there adding water to route connecting this section.
Q. What was a highlight of the competition for you?
A. Watching Nathan top it out and knowing that The Chronolith goes. Also seeing Ryan take the shot to win it.
Q. Would you set another route for the Ouray Ice Festival?
A. For sure!!! I had a ton of fun working with Vince. Plus I got to learn a lot.
2017 Men’s Results: 1st place Ryan Vachon, 2nd place Nathan Kutcher, 3rd place Will Mayo
2017 Women’s Results: 1st place Ines Papert, 2nd place Sarah Heuniken, 3rd place Katie Bono
Congrats to all of the competitors!
The Ouray Ice Park puts on an excellent festival! The 22nd annual Ouray Ice Festival is the annual gathering of the tribe and the main fundraiser for the Ouray Ice Park. There are still clinics available! Add your name to the waitlist for clinics by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
List of Clinics Still Available (updated of 12/02/16)
Clinic 14 – Intro to Ice, Hyperlite – Ryan Vachon – 1 spot
Clinic 36 – Adaptive Ice Climbing, Paradox Sports – 4 spots
Clinic 48 – Skills for the Ice Leader, Arc’teryx – Jesse Huey – 1 spot
Clinic 65 – Adaptive Ice Climbing, Paradox Sports – Chad Jukes – 4 spots
Clinic 73 – Leashless Climbing / Tool Techniques, Black Diamond – Hayden Kennedy – 4 spots
Clinic 81 – Belays & Transitions, La Sportiva – Will Mayo – 1 spot
List of Seminars Still Available (as of 10/23/16)
T1 – Guided Ascent of Whorehouse Hoses – 2 spots
T2 – Guided Ascent Skylight Area – 4 spots
T3 – Perfecting Ice Movement Skills – 2 spots
T6 – Learn to Lead Ice – 1 spot
D – Learn to Lead Ice, Mammut – Doug Shepard – 1 spot
E – Women’s Learn to Lead, Gore-tex – Angela Hawse – 6 spots
F – Backcountry Ice Climbing (Skylight Area), La Sportiva – Karsten Delap – 4 spots
G – Backcountry Ice Climbing (Ouray Area), Camp – Scott Bennet – 1 spot
P – Light & Fast Alpinism, Camp – 1 spot
Support the Ouray Ice Park by becoming and member or donating today!
Ouray Ice Park Members get $10 off clinics and seminars. Click here to purchase or renew your Ouray Ice Park Membership. The OIP is a non-profit organization and nearly all of their funding comes from donations. The Ouray Ice Park is free to climb in, however, the it’s not free to maintain. Member benefits include discounts on clinics at the 2017 Ouray Ice Festival, A complimentary Gear Card for the 2017 Ouray Ice Festival, Discounts with local businesses, 50% off a 1 year subscription to Rock & Ice Magazine, and lots of extra good karma for supporting such a great climbing venue!
Ice Ambassador Ouray Ice Park Membership – Costs $150, includes all of the benefits listed above, plus an engraved stainless steel Ouray Ice Park pint and 2016-2017 Ouray Ice Park t-shirt, and a bonus perk of 10% off guided programs with San Juan Mountain Guides ($100 limit per year)
Make a Tax Deductible Donation to the Ouray Ice Park – as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, your support is extremely important to helping the Ouray Ice Park maintain and operate this incredible resource.
There are many things to do during IceFest! Climbing, Parties, Soaking in Hot Springs, skiing!!
Ouray Ice Festival Nightly Events include multimedia presentations by leading climbers, discounted outdoor gear sold at silent auctions, dance parties, food and more!
Thursday – Kick Off Party hosted by RAB & the American Alpine Club + Silent Auction
Friday – Ines Papert presents Riders on the Storm + Silent Auction
Saturday – A tribute to Kyle Dempster & Scott Adamson – Road to Karakol & Desert Ice + Presentation by Hayden Kennedy + Live Auction
Petzl Party – “Alpine Hippies”
Excitement for winter in the San Juans comes early! Snow is just beginning to dust the peaks and the waterfalls are turning to ice. Our Early Season Ice Course is perfect for the climber that just can’t wait to get back on the ice. By the end of November, even before the Ouray Ice Park opens, you can get your early season fix and get in great shape with the best early season ice climbing in Colorado. Less snow on the ground means easier access to the ice climbs, more manageable avalanche conditions, and more unique climbing due to the varied, fragile, thin, and tricky ice that is often found on these backcountry routes.
The Early Season Ice Course is for all levels. Based on what’s in the best condition, and the climber’s ability, we’ll climb classic backcountry routes in Ouray and Silverton in either Skylight, Eureka, or South Mineral Creek areas. Options include local favorite The Ribbon (WI4) and classics Stairway to Heaven (WI4), or early season favorites such as, Direct North Face (WI4) Snowblind (WI4), Campground Couloir (WI3), Whorehouse Hoses (WI5), and more. Returning clients that are advanced climbers can burn off that turkey on the historic Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5, M5), seven pitches of mixed climbing on moss, choss, rock and steep ice, first put up in 1985 by some of the world’s best mountain climbers Charlie Fowler, Jeff Lowe, and Mark Wilford.
We offer this course at a very low client to guide ratio of 2:1 which will give you extensive mileage on the backcountry ice. The cost of the course includes guiding and instruction, group climbing equipment (ropes, screws) as well as personal equipment (helmets, harnesses, boots, crampons, and ice tools). For upcoming dates and to register, Click Here: Register Now.
For Steve Johnson, it goes without saying, work is life and life is work. Steve has been guiding guests up ice, rock, on skis and in the alpine tundra since 1996. An AMGA certified guide in the rock and alpine disciplines, he is in pursuit of finishing his IFMGA soon. Steve is charismatic and fun. He also has great technical guiding skills and is always happy to pass on his knowledge with his guests. We’re stoked to have Steve on our team. He is our lead guide in the Front Range of Colorado in Rocky Mountain National Park, Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, and Lumpy Ridge. This week, we chatted with Steve about being a guide.
What does climbing mean to you?
Climbing is my life. It’s a lot like surfing or golf in the way that people become obsessed with it and turn it into a lifestyle. Instead of being a hobby, it’s a lifestyle that that they live for. I became hooked on climbing when I started back in 1992. Still to this day, climbing for the last thirty years, I’ve gone through the “obsession” process and then you get better and eventually find yourself looking back at all of those years you’ve spent on the rock. Today, I realize how special and precious this activity is to me and the guests I guide.
Do you have a favorite discipline to guide?
Usually, skiing, but really, it varies. After a full season of rock climbing, I’m getting excited to get back to ice climbing and then I find myself dreaming of skiing powder again. After that, it goes full circle and I’m looking forward to getting back to guiding on rock again. Mountain life is pretty lucky.
Most memorable trip you’ve guided?
Opus Hut, on Ophir Pass in the San Juans is unbelievable. We did a four day trip last spring up there and the skiing was phenomenal. The people we get to guide for at San Juan Mountain Guides always make the trip the best though, honestly! This trip was one to remember. I mean, the mountains where that hut is settled in are absolutely breathtaking.
How different are your personal days from your guiding days in the mountains?
I live outside of El Dorado Canyon in Boulder where there’s world class climbing, so I get out there with buddies quite a bit. Guiding with guests is just as fun as climbing with friends. The difference between the two is when I guide I am more personally responsible for my guest’s safety and there’s naturally a pressure in that. When I’m out with friends, there’s no need to play a lead role.
Best way to maintain fitness?
Yoga and rest. I like to keep my muscles loose and joints opened up. For the most part, what we do as guides is enough to keep the fitness high enough for our guests. But of course, If you train, you’re going to be better! Depending on how much work you put in, sometimes rest is your best medicine.
Tips for climbers to live by?
Climbing can be a slow sport when you’re belaying; there’s a lot of downtime. It’s a lot of problem solving and you’re not continuously moving. It’s the problem solving that I love the most. I like to think of days of adventure like a puzzle; the whole day of climbing is a puzzle. Meanwhile, little routes and problems can be thought of like reading a poem and from there, smaller things are verses or quotes.
Do you have a favorite climber or mountaineer that you look up to?
Is it going to get me in trouble if I say Leonard Coyne? He’s known for saying some pretty offensive things but he’s also good at speaking his mind which I like. Ultimately, he’s a total badass.
Favorite Piece of Gear?
SJMG’s gave me a pair of Outdoor Research pants that I have climbed in every single day this summer. I also love the La Sportiva T.C Pros (Tommy Caldwell’s rock climbing shoe). It performs great, you don’t have to wear them super tightly and the high top protects your ankles. I wear this shoe all day and they’re actually not bad to walk in! I have over eight pairs of climbing shoes but if it were up to me, I’d just climb in the T.C. Pros.
The Alpamayo Expedition had a terrific trip! They had great weather and good times. Their summit bid was successful and everyone is doing fine. Our sincere apologies for not posting the 28 & 29, we were out of service in the Teton NP attending a memorial for Gary Falk.
The team is arriving to Huaraz today (July 31). They travel to Lima tomorrow, and finally home the next day! Thank you for your patience & understanding. SJMG
The Alpamayo Team led by Andrés Marín is doing well. Today they are resting at High Camp (18,000 ft/5,485 m.) for tonight’s summit attempt. Wish them a safe journey up & down Alapamayo (19,512 ft./5,947 m.). They are in our thoughts!
Team Alpamayo is doing fantastic. They had a good, long day today moving from Moraine Camp (16,076 ft/ 4,900 m) to High Camp (ABC) at 18,164 feet/ 5,536 meters. The weather is great. Stay tuned for more on their progress.
The Alpamayo Team is doing great. Today they advanced to Moraine Camp (16,076 ft or 4,900 m.).
The Alpamayo Expedition is going great. Yesterday (July 23) the team did a carry from BC to Moraine Camp (16,076 ft or 4,900 m.) Today they took a rest day at Base Camp (14,107 ft. or 4,300 m.). Weather is beautiful and everyone is feeling good.