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The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

Mercer Island-Raised Colin Haley’s Ascent in Alpinism

Haley mountaineering in Peru.
Colin Haley
Haley mountaineering in Peru.

Colin Haley, an alpinist with Mercer Island roots, has been the first to climb some extremely difficult alpine routes. Alpinism, the craft of ascending mountains by rock climbing, ice climbing, hiking or skiing, is a very challenging and exhilarating sport that Seattle has excellent opportunities for, with stunning mountains just an hour away. 

Haley grew up on Mercer Island in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and stayed in the Seattle area throughout high school and college, where he attended the University of Washington (UW). After getting into mountaineering in the Cascades at a very young age, Haley wanted to stay in the area with the mountains he grew up with and could hone his skills at. 

The UW was the only college that I applied to, because it was important to me to stay close to the Cascade Mountains, which are the best place in the [United States] to learn the skills of alpine climbing,” Haley said. 

These days, most people who start climbing at a young age start at a climbing gym, and some of those eventually get into alpine climbing,” Haley said. “For me, it was kind of the opposite. I grew up doing lots of skiing and hiking, and my dad started taking my brother and [me] on easy mountaineering routes when I was nine or so. When I was 11, I climbed and skied Mount Hood, and when I was 12, I did my first technical alpine climb, the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades.”

Haley climbing in Yosemite. Colin Haley

Alpine climbs can consist of dangerous elements such as avalanche terrain and loose rock. West Ridge of Forbidden Peak consists of over 5,000 feet of elevation gain and is considered an intermediate alpine climb. 

Haley started mountaineering before getting into more traditional rock climbing, which he started at a much later age. He didn’t start gym climbing until late high school, at the UW Climbing Rock. 

“There were a couple great things about learning to rock climb at the UW Rock,” Haley said. “One is that it is very similar to real rock climbing, much more than most modern climbing gyms. The other is that by climbing there, I met lots of other people in the Seattle climbing community. For the second half of high school and all of college, I was almost always climbing with people a decade or more older than myself.”

During that time, the climbing scene in Seattle was less popular than it is now, but it still had a strong community to support young climbers like Haley. This environment helped him advance to a high level of the sport and mountaineering, and  by his early 20s, he made a name for himself in the climbing industry due to his first ascents, such as Cerro Torre in 2008. 

Haley explained how he got to such an advanced level of alpinism. “I think it was helpful to start young and to have already spent a lot of time in the mountains when growing up,” Haley said. “Beyond that, it was mostly a question of dedication. Since I was 16 years old, climbing has been the overriding focus of my life. Of course you can’t put infinite energy into every pursuit, so my climbing dedication has come at the expense of other aspects of life, such as academics and a financially fruitful career.”

Haley now lives in the small town of Chamonix, France. Chamonix is at the base of the Mont Blanc and the Brévent, two well-known mountains in the Alps. 

“Chamonix is undoubtedly the world center of alpine climbing. I dreamed of living here for a long time, and finally made that dream come true in 2016. There is no other town in the world with as many high-level alpine climbers, and that’s despite the fact that it is a small town,” Haley said. “It is also a major center for skiing, in particular extreme skiing. And while it isn’t a major rock climbing center these days, there’s still a huge rock climbing community here, including multiple previous World Cup champions!”

Taking his skills to other major climbing hubs around the world, Haley has made the first solo ascents of many mountains in Patagonia, including Torre Egger and Torre Traverse. Some of his other proudest ascents include the first solo ascent and speed record of The Infinite Spur in Alaska, and the first winter solo ascent of Cerro Chaltén in Patagonia. 

“These days, I don’t climb very much in Washington State, although the Cascades will always hold a place in my heart. I’m simply not in the Seattle area for very much time these days,” Haley said. “When I am back in Seattle, I’m mostly climbing at the Seattle Bouldering Project, with an odd day here or there climbing at Little Si or Index, or doing a quick trail run or free solo up The Tooth, an easy alpine rock climb near Snoqualmie Pass.”

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About the Contributor
Juliette Robadey
Juliette Robadey, Features Team
Juliette is in her sophomore year and second year of journalism. Last year, she was a staff writer and now is a member of the Features Team. She is a rock climber and enjoys hiking, doing yoga and reading.

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