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Clint Helander: Alaska Alpinist’s First Business Trip to Colorado

“What the hell happened there?” Clint Helander says as his beer tips over next to me on the living room table. Then he slurps it up off the place-mat, and I hand him a towel. “Got it,” he says.

Two weeks ago, I met up with the 33-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, resident, professional photographer, writer and alpinist in Ouray, Colorado, during his first working trip to the Centennial State. His notable ascents include ten trips to Alaska’s Revelation Mountains, and a 2,590-metre climb across the entire unclimbed south ridge of Mount Huntington, in the Alaska Range.

Last November, he attempted his first Himalayan peak, Panbari (6,905m), “climbing halfway up a 2,750-metre unclimbed face before turning around due to rockfall,” he says between sips of his craft ale. A Japanese team first climbed Panbari in 2006.

Clint Helander taking in the view during a run above Boulder, Colorado. Photo Chris Van Leuven

Helander visited Ouray during the 23rd annual Ice Fest on assignment for The North Face. He also squeaked in a few climbs, “but I was so busy documenting the event that I only got out for one day. I’ll be going back in a few days, now that it’s quieted down.”

After Ouray, he spent a week at the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver, Colorado, “Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show is the first time in nearly 30 years the outdoor and snow industries will be together… to reach influential buyers across all product segments,” states the website.

During the show, “I strengthened connections with people I already knew, including longtime North Face athletes Jess Roskelley, Andres Marin and Anna Pfaff. I also began collaborating on future projects with non-profits I support like the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club.”

Climbing Magazine editor Matt Samet on a first ascent in Boulder Canyon. Photo Clint Helander.

As the show ended, I offered him space and a day of climbing first ascents in Boulder. Yesterday, Climbing Magazine editor Matt Samet, Helander and I hiked up a steep hillside covered in snow over an abandoned mine. “This may be the sketchiest part of the day,” he said as he fought to gain traction in his bald-soled approach shoes.

“I wish I brought crampons,” he added. After Samet and I rigged a rope on a new mixed sport and trad route rated 5.12, Samet rigged a self-belay and began work on a neighboring line.

I put Helander on belay and he took off on a 5.11, before he came whipping off the rock above the second bolt. “I’m in a different kind of shape,” he said. “I climbed a Grade VI ice route a few weeks ago.”

Chris Van Leuven nearing the chains on a link-up (first ascent) to complete Elixir Brain 5.12c.

After the day of climbing, we visited The Spot bouldering gym in downtown Boulder where I took him on a sandbagged tour. For a few hours we dynoed to crimps, jammed cracks and ascended roofs until our arms blew out.

Then we headed back to my place and he served up smoked wild Alaska salmon that he caught in the Kenai River. This morning we got in an hour-long run. Then he pounded out a few paragraphs on a story for Switchback Travel and he packed up for his next stop, Aspen.

Helander in his element: hanging from ice tools. Photo Chris Van Leuven

“I’ll be here for another week,” he says of his remaining plans, which include a final visit to Ouray. After that, he’s headed out on a 27-day Grand Canyon rafting trip.

Follow him on Instagram here and check out his website here.

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