Climbers calling Carbondale home
By Ryan Gannaway
Special to The Sopris Sun
Under the ever-protecting gaze of Mount Sopris, myself and many other Carbondaleans have found a life of peace in this beautiful town. To me Carbondale was my second chance at life, my saving grace. I proudly call this mountain haven my home and the birthplace of my passion: rock climbing.
I still remember the first pair of shoes I bought at Ragged Mountain Sports, the first time I tied into a rope, and the first mountain I climbed. I could explain how this town was and is the catalyst to my climbing lifestyle, but I would like to tell it through the eyes of a few people that walk among us. My heroes and my friends, they are the undercover bonecrushers, aka, the climbers that ride just under the radar that “crush” at climbing. They exist, quietly supporting a family, or working in a gear shop to make their dreams a reality. They don’t need to be in the limelight, and often prefer to avoid it entirely. There are not just a handful, but a bucketful of world-class athletes, drinking beer with us on Friday nights. Here are a few of their stories.
Ryan Jennings balances the big three: career, family and climbing. When I sat down to talk to the seasoned alpinist, he told me, “You can only really be proficient at two at a time. For me, family is always first.”
While balancing a family life and climbing, Ryan made a first ascent on a seldom-visited mountain in Alaska two months ago. This expedition had been a dream of his for almost 20 years. I met with Ryan, and realized I had already known him, kind of. I had seen him around this small town with no idea that he was a part of a very small group of specialized humans: alpinists. Ryan and his partner Kevin Cooper became the first people to establish a line to the top of Mount Johnson, a monumental accomplishment for the pair and for the climbing community. Still, Ryan modestly portrays his grand feat.
Ryan grew up in Carbondale, but has lived elsewhere throughout his life. I asked him what drew him back to this town and he replied, “There is just no pressure here. The people are humble and caring.” From a climber’s point of view he loves the close proximity of Carbondale to Rifle Mountain Park, Indian Creek, Utah, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. All three of these destinations have world-class climbing and are merely a weekend trip away.
As I talked to Ryan about climbing, family, and life he spoke softly, using only the words that mattered, a testament to his meticulous and efficient character as an alpine climber. There was an aura of peace and gratification about him; he was happy to have successfully climbed in the mountains and to return safely to his family.
I run into Ryan periodically in Carbondale, nervous about what to say. Then I realize he is totally human and simply loves climbing and living Carbondale where he’s truly happy.
My next hero is a lanky kid, whose laugh and smile are just as inspiring as his climbing. The first time I met Hayden Kennedy I did not know he was a climber and we did not talk about climbing. He carries himself humbly, but do not be fooled; his accomplishments are nothing short of legendary. Hayden recently completed the first ascent of The Ogre in the Karakorum mountain range in Pakistan. He has made first ascents around the world, and has proved himself as one of the most well-rounded and greatest climbers of his generation. Yet, when I have a beer with him and he wants to know how I am doing, a truly selfless trait.
Hayden grew up in Carbondale climbing with his dad, also an accomplished alpinist. Hayden travels many months of the year climbing, but he always comes back to Carbondale. When I asked him if he enjoyed coming back he exclaims, “I love coming back! There are good people in Carbondale and it has grown so much in a good way. There are just so many active people with good attitudes, and every time I come back I connect with old friends and make new ones.”
I always hope to see Hayden when he is back in Carbondale and sometimes I am lucky enough to run into him on the road. He is one of my favorite people to be around because he radiates excitement and love for life. I will always remember one of the first conversations I had with Hayden. I had just led my first traditional climb (a style of climbing where the climber uses removable gear to climb to the top). To say the least, I was elated about my meager accomplishment and Hayden listened to every word I said. He was genuinely happy for me and I would like to believe he was just excited to talk about climbing. Next time you are out on First Friday, keep an eye out for Hayden, he will surprise you with his warm smile and wisdom.
Both of these climbers have inspired me in different ways, but my biggest hero is not quite as well known. Steve Denny has enough stoke to supply everyone in Carbondale for an entire summer. He is transplant from the East Coast who has made the outdoors his playground and Carbondale his home base. He works at Ragged Mountain Sports, but if you ask him what he does, he will say he rock climbs.
Steve spends the summer and fall months traveling in his van climbing, but always comes back to Carbondale. I asked him what keeps drawing him back and he said, “Acceptance for untraditional successes. It is rare for people to see prosperity in what we do (rock climbing). People here respect our successes.”
He says that having his lifestyle accepted makes his dreams become reality. “Carbondale is overall a fitness town and that alone brings general happiness.”
Steve works hard in order to make his next climbing adventure a reality. This past winter he self-sponsored a trip to the Patagonia region of Argentina, one of the most coveted destinations on the planet for alpinists.
His passion for climbing is contagious, as well as his willingness to share it. Steve is not only a dear friend and hero of mine, but also my mentor. He taught me the skills necessary to climb in the mountains. He poured months of energy and patience into giving me the gift of the outdoors for which I will be eternally grateful.
The love that Steve possesses for Carbondale shines through him when he speaks about this place, the local people he calls his family and the mountains that he calls his home.
I will forever try to give credit to these undercover bonecrushers for the wisdom, the stoke, and the beauty that each of them have shown me. Most of all, I will always admire that they each have an undeniable love for this town. That makes me believe that there is something truly and deeply special about Carbondale, Colorado and all the people that call this place home.