Our Members: Brian Threlkeld & Paul Clifford—Northeast Live Your Dream Grant Winners
The “Live Your Dream” Climbing Grants are developed and administered locally with community support—each Region of the American Alpine Club has it’s own grant program. In the Northeast Region, the “Live Your Dream” Climbing Grant seeks to support climbers from a range of ages and experience levels, as well as a range of climbing disciplines (sport climbing, bouldering, traditional rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, etc.). The emphasis of the grant is on projects that have significant positive impact on grantees’ progressions as climbers.
We got into contact with the winners of the Northeast Region grants to talk to them about their trips, their experience, their motivations, and what they think of the Club.
Brian Threlkeld & Paul Clifford
Hometown: Portland, Maine
Number of years climbing: Paul has been climbing for five years and Brian has been climbing for 15 years.
Date of expedition: July 1 – July 20, 2012
Objective: Various Routes, Cirque de Towers, Wind River Range, WY
From the pair’s grant application: “Our objective is to develop a more efficient, light and fast style of alpine climbing in order to prepare ourselves for larger and more complex climbs in the future. We also hope to effectively document the process in both written and visual mediums. Our first objective is to complete an acclimation climb in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. After the North Ridge of Spearhead (II, 5.6) we will head to the Cirque de Towers in the Wind River Range to climb the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (II, 5.6), the East Face Left Side Cracks of Pingora (III, 5.7) and the North East Face of Pingora (III, 5.8+). If successful, it’ll be a total of thirty-four pitches in four days of climbing.”
They continue, “This project allows us to live our dreams as individuals and as a team. We both want to expand our skill sets on long, granite alpine routes and we feel that going to the back country, multi-pitch routes of the Wind River Range cannot be replicated for us in the Northeast. Although we love the long routes on Cannon, Cathedral, Whitehorse, and in Huntington’s Ravine, we feel that in order to truly learn our craft, we need to push ourselves on bigger and longer climbs in remote, high alpine back country locations.”
Abbey: What does climbing mean to you?
Via email, Paul said, “I began climbing later in life and I have been trying to make up for lost time ever since. After 20 years of hiking, paddling and biking I discovered rock and ice climbing in 2007 and have not looked back since. I have dedicated almost every weekend and vacation time available to climbing on rock and ice As an educator I have time to travel and explore during the summer months, but lack the financial means to do so. I am also interested in documenting my experiences through writing and photography. In the past two years I have been a regular contributor to two separate blogs: Where’s Pablo and New England Adventures. Both of these blogs explore the logistical and spiritual aspects of adventure based travel.”
Brian said, “Climbing has always put things into perspective for me. My weekdays become easier to handle when I look back to my weekend days of balancing on my front points or standing on delicate edges, totally focused on the present, maintaining my composure and pushing through boundaries. In the vertical world, when I complete a difficult pitch, I know I can overcome any obstacle in my way. In June 2011 I got an authentic opportunity to put that knowledge to use when I was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 30. A good prognosis and a fast recovery from surgery got me back into the mountains a few months later. Since then, I’ve felt a strengthening conviction to pursue my passion for climbing long routes in the mountains.”
Abbey: Have you been to this region before?
Paul: I visited the Cirque de Towers five years ago during my first summer as a climber and climbed the East Face Left Side Cracks of Pingora (III, 5.7). Brian’s never been…but he wants to go!
Abbey: Describe your previous alpine experience.
Paul: We’ve both climbed a pretty fair amount, I guess, though Brian has certainly done a bit more. I’ve climbed Amy Couloir (300 meters 5a / 60º) on the Aguja Guillaumet in the Fitzroy Range of Patagonia, the East Face Left Side Cracks of Pingora (5.7 III – 7 pitches) in the Wind River Range, [several routes on] Cathedral and several other moderate climbs in Tuolumne Meadows in the Eastern Sierras. In the past three years I’ve begun climbing extensively in the North Conway area. My favorite routes so far have been the Whitney G. on Cannon Cliffs, Bombardment and The Beast Flake on Cathedral [Ledges], and Hotter then Hell on White Horse.
Brian has climbed in over 20 states, done a few big expeditions in the Alaska Range to Denali and Mt. Hayes, and spent countless days rock and ice climbing in the Northeast and in South Central Alaska.
[Ed. Brian sent us a list of his favorites: Whitney-Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff, NH 5.7; Bastille Crack, Eldorado Canyon, CO 5.7; Durrance Route, Devil's Tower, WY 5.6; Moby Grape, Cannon Cliff, NH 5.8; Various Gullies, Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington, NH WI 3.]
Abbey: How are you training and preparing for your expedition?
Paul: Brian and I have been preparing for our expedition in several different ways: We’ve been doing as many multi-pitch alpine routes in Huntington’s Ravine and in the Franconia Notch/Cannon area as we can; climbing 5.8 and 5.9 routes in the Cathedral and White Horse areas whenever we can; visiting the Maine Rock Gym once a week to work on strength training; hiking to remote climbs and backcountry locations all over the Northeast—no we won’t tell you where! Keep it remote!
Abbey: Why do you like alpine climbing in the big mountains?
Paul: Alpine climbing provides both of us with an opportunity to combine backcountry camping with multi pitch climbs that involves route finding, and a fast and light ethic. We also know that one cannot reach the mountains without going through the valleys.
Abbey: Why are you a member of the AAC?
Paul: We’re both new to the Club. We both joined for similar reasons: we want to support the alpine community in New England, we understand the importance of community when it comes to access rights, we look at the AAC community as a great place to make connections and learn more about the alpine environment, and we both feel that the benefits provided by the AAC are a bargain.
Abbey: How does the AAC support your lifestyle and climbing objectives?
As a recipient of the Live Your Dream grant we have received some important financial support that has provided us with an opportunity to test our skills and a chance to visit one of the most significant climbing areas in the continental U.S. More importantly, the AAC provides an incredible archive of information, subsidized housing in some of the premier climbing areas in North America and insurance for climbers dealing with any worst case scenarios that may arise.
[Ed. Stay tuned to Inclined for a follow up report from Paul and Brian's trip when they get back.]
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