Shawn Bunnell and Phil Schuld climbing “Called On Account Of Rains” IV 5+ (M4 R) on a bluebird day at Lake Willoughby VT
Just six years ago, Tyler Kempney, 27, from Carthage, New York, started climbing rock, learning the basics here in the Northeast. Now he’s on the UIAA U.S. World Cup Men’s Ice Climbing team, living in Colorado and just recently sent M15. NEice had a chat with him.
Tyler, where are you from?
I am from the small town of Carthage, New York.
How did you get into climbing?
I have always wanted to do it! But I really began climbing at Houghton College in 2012, where I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Outdoor Recreation.
What’re your least favorite foods?
Olives. But, I feel like I should acquire their taste before I go on my trip to Italy.
Any snacks you just can’t avoid but know you should? 😊
I eat all the snacks and never look back. Ha,ha.
Favorite food while climbing?
Rock climbing: Donuts. Ice and mixed climbing: Anything warm. Usually miso soup… and donuts.
Any favorite tunes to get psyched for climbing?
Hip hop, rap, or heavy metal. I have been digging Wu Tang, Run the Jewels, Rage Against the Machine and Tool lately.
What is your favorite route in the Northeast?
Paradigm Shift, WI5, M8, at Snake Mountain, Vermont.
What really motivates you to climb hard?
I am honestly mostly motivated by aesthetics and the love of movement. This love for difficult movement tends to encourage me to pursue hard ice and mixed climbing. And it seems most of the beautiful lines are either long ice smears or steep mixed lines that lead to an ice dagger. So I am motivated to climb hard out of necessity! haha
What person has had the biggest influence in your climbing?
Through mentorship; Mikael Williams.
Through inspiration; Ian Osteyee, Josh Warton, and Will Gadd.
You recently sent America’s hardest mixed route, Saphira, M15-, in Vail. Any tips on getting strong for mixed climbing?
My favorite way to train for big roof routes like Saphira, is with gymnastic rings. And big traversing routes also require a good deal of figure 4 training.
What are you using for gear these days?
Tools: CASSIN X-Dreams (aka the greatest tool ever made).
Crampons: CASSIN Bladerunners.
Boots: SCARPA Phantom Tech for ice and mixed, SCARPA Rebel Ice for hard mixed and drytooling.
Other stuff: CAMP Storm Helmet, CAMP Alpine Flash Harness, Camp Nano Carabiners, Petzl or BD screws, Wild Country Friends, DMM Dragons, DMM nuts, any trustworthy thin rope.
Soft goods: Psyched on NW Alpine! They are a small US based company that makes all of their products in Oregon. I try to wear as much of their product as I can to help support a great company. For gloves, I find that the CAMP Gecko Hot has been my all-time favorite for ice and mixed.
In 2017, I went to Ouray Ice Festival and watched the competition and from then on I knew I wanted to compete. It looked so fun! Like America Ninja Warrior with ice tools. So I signed up for the 2018 Ouray Ice Fest Competition and finished in 5th place for the Men’s category right behind Will Gadd! I didn’t have any proper training and tried it “off the couch.” Then I thought, “What could I do if I actually trained?”
The American Alpine Club announced that the Ice Climbing World Cup Finals would be in Denver, only 30 minutes from where I currently live. A few of my friends applied to be on the team and we all began training together. This past August, my friends and I found ourselves driving down to Ouray just to go dry tooling. The thought of dry tooling in the summer was funny to me, and it was my first time purely drytooling rather than ice or mixed climbing. But climbing and hanging out with the other competitors was such a great time, I decided to apply for the US team. I honestly just thought it would be a great opportunity to see the world!
As for the team, the US team is still very young. There are a couple members that have competed for a few years, but it isn’t until this year that we have all come together to act as a team. Kendra Stritch, the USA team manager, has been competing for 6 years and has been working with the American Alpine Club to help develop an actual US World Cup team. In years past, it was more like a few individuals representing the US on their own.
Through the persistence of a few team members, we are all really becoming a close-knit team! Our conversations are laced with inside jokes amidst the training and travel plans, and we all get along so well. It truly is a great group of people to help represent the US ice climbing community.
Was learning to ice climb in the Northeast instead of out West important in your skill set?
Yes. In my opinion, the North East will prepare you for ice anywhere out West. But the ice out West won’t prepare you for the ice in the North East. It’s the scrappy nature of the climbs, the tough weather conditions, and the raw amount of high-quality ice in the East. You can’t really get that skill set out here in Colorado. You can become a good dry-tooler for sure. But it would take much longer to become a good ice climber. Here the ice lines are farther apart from one another, there is avalanche danger, and the ice tends to have less water content. Yes we have places like Ouray, Bozeman and Cody. But they are somewhere between six and ten hours away from Boulder, Colorado. That type of drive would get you ANYWHERE out East.
Do you think it’s important for competitors to be able to ice climb?
Unfortunately, no. But for me, yes! I compete because it provides me the opportunity to travel to new places and experience ice in different regions of the world. Plus, ice climbing is my favorite form of climbing.
What’s your most excellent adventure(climbing trip) so far?
The first ascent of Conditional Love on Longs Peak. That route is so aesthetic, rare, and climbed so beautifully, that I climbed it 4 times this season!
What’s on your tick list? – One northeastern route too, please. 😊
Goals this winter: Tick as many of the U.S. test-piece mixed climbs as possible and get in as much ice as possible. I also have a few big objectives that are pretty hush-hush.
Goal this weekend in Bozeman: Inglorious Bastards M12 and House of Flying Daggers M13
Big goal out East: The Fecalator, an M10 trade route, in the Adirondacks. TOP of the list. It always has been. Plus, I have never ice climbed at Lake Willoughby or anywhere in New Hampshire. So my ticklist is HUGE for the Northeast.)
Big goal for drytooling: A Line Above the Sky, D15, in Italy.
Check out a video of Kempney on the F.A. of Conditional Love, WI5+, M5R, on Long’s Peak.
Check out his Instagram feed at tkemp315.
I had never been to St. Alban, a dedicated dry tooling crag near Quebec City. My friend Marty Theriault, who lives only 10 minutes from the crag, had several times extended an invitation to sample the chossy riverside cliffs. Marty was about to be deployed so we had to make the trip happen soon. – Zac St. Jules.
Poke-O-Moonshine – A flight by “Angel Eyes” 12.01.18
Peter Doucette of Mountain Sense Guides and Mike Houser racing the sun on the Bragg-Pheasant / Frankensteins South Face, Crawford Notch NH
The Boston Mountaineering Committee will offer the 2019 Ice Climbing Program this winter. This program teaches waterfall ice climbing and technical mountaineering skills. Prospective students should have rock climbing and winter sports experience. Please attend a mandatory free informational lecture at Arc’Teryx Newbury Street in Boston on Monday, December 3rd at 7 pm (2nd and 3rd lectures for admitted students only on Jan 7th and Feb 4th). The program will be held in the White Mountains on Jan 25-27 and Feb 8-10. Cost is $315 (members) or $375 (non-members). Info: www.amcbostonclimbers.com or [email protected]
An October ascent of the Black Dike is rare, but it is just as rare to find a good balance in your life. Family, work and following your passions. The Doucette / Burhardt family is right on track. After a late night speaking event and the morning logistics of two young children, Peter and Majka still managed to pull off the coveted first ascent of the Black Dike this season. A 10am start “delivered the goods” for them. Another experienced party with an earlier start, backed off the climb that morning. The Black Dike is not in by normal standards and the little window that was there has passed. The ascent is a testament to their ability and balance in their lives.
Find out more on Majka from her website www.majkaburhardt.com/
Photo by Peter Doucette, Mountain Sense Guides
I have been doing some work on E-Guide over the summer. With the help of Jim Lawyer I have mapped out the Ice Climbing areas for Blue Lines 2 by Don Mellor. This is an interactive map. Zoom in, move around and click the icons for details. Explore new areas to climb ice, get driving directions and GPS data for that area. Click the full-screen icon for an immersive experience. Topo and satellite views are available. Area and climb descriptions can be found in Blue Lines 2 by Don Mellor.
The intent of E-Guide is to give you an overhead view and information for the different ice climbing areas of the Northeast.
If you have corrections or want to help with E-Guide contact [email protected]
I ran into Brent Doscher at the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest. We were both assigned to photograph some climbing clinics. Prior, to that, he had generously provided some images for my article highlighting a climber in New Hampshire. Upon receiving the images, I immediately knew I needed to know more about him. His photographs had original and unique perspectives that only come with innate talent and years of experience honing his skills. Scrolling through his portfolio, I found myself getting drawn into the experience in which he was photographing. An extraordinary photograph will take you on an adventure with that single image, and that’s exactly what his work accomplishes.
I didn’t spend long talking with Brent when I ran into him in last month, but we kept in touch and I was glad I was able to catch up with him recently and ask him a little more about himself and his photography.
How did you get into sports photography and can you describe the evolution of your career?
I’ve been shooting professionally for 14 years; it all started with a senior project in high school when I chose sports photography as my subject. I learned as much as I could about cameras and photography as I shot my high school sports teams and then graduated onto the University of New Hampshire sports teams during my time there. After completing my degree at UNH with a minor in studio arts, I started my own event photography business. That business grew until it was an international company photographing 100 events per year, covering Spartan Races, marathons, triathlons, and heaps of other endurance events. Eventually it grew large enough that I sold it to another company, Gameface Media, and went to work for them as their director of photography where we grew the business to covering 300 events and millions of athletes per year. It was during my time there that I fell in love with climbing, both rock and ice. Ironically enough, I originally started ice climbing because I wanted to take pictures of it and figured that I should learn how to climb first. It turned out I loved climbing just as much as I love shooting it. In mid-2017, I parted ways with Gameface to try and make it on my own as an adventure sports photographer. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to land the cover of Trout Magazine and Wild Northeast’s fall issues, and my work has previously appeared in Men’s Journal, Runner’s World, Outside Online, and Climbing Magazine.
In your opinion, what makes a great image?
Great energy makes a great image, first and foremost. Everything else comes second. If you look at the best images that exist in the world, no matter the genre, the mood of the photo is what draws you in. I’ve taken countless photos under amazing sunsets or sunrises that just fall flat because they’re lifeless. As such, they become disposable and you never really look back on them. The images that stick in your mind are those where the subject’s energy can draw you into the photo and instantly captivate you.
What is your motivation/inspiration behind climbing and photography?
Whether I’m photographing climbing, fishing, running, or anything else, the style that I always tend to strive for in my shots is capturing the connection between the subject and nature. The best photographers in the industry are capable of capturing these amazing scenes that show you the beauty of this world at its peak moments, and by having a human subject in that image they can essentially transport you into the scene so you can feel what it would be like to be a part of that beauty.
What was your most rewarding experience photographing a subject?
It’s hard to nail down a specific experience. The ones that always stand out the most are the shoots where I can be part of the objective. Being on the climb with the athletes and getting to experience all the thrills of an alpine objective alongside them is one of my favorite things about shooting ice and alpine climbing. Climbing and photography are both passions that require 100% percent of your mental energy to execute correctly, especially when you are near your limits. You have to be so dialed in your systems on both the photography side as well as the climbing side in order to make sure you never miss a moment. Additionally, you have to think through and plan every single section of the route not only from the climbing aspect, but from a photography aspect as well. I certainly still have an immense amount to learn on both sides of the house, but that’s what makes it a fun challenge.
Being part of the experience that you are documenting certainly makes for more raw and powerful images. Looking back at my photos, I frequently remember the feeling I had when I was taking specific shots, and remember the emotions of everyone else in the photo. The challenge is to convey those emotions in your imagery so that every viewer can sense the elation or despair, whatever it may be.
What was your most challenging?
The most challenging shoot was when I climbed Mt. Shasta with a friend. I didn’t have much time to adjust to the altitude, so the final 500 feet of elevation before the summit was pretty rough for me. Going upwards was hard enough in itself; throwing photography into the mix when you’re feeling that poorly makes for a pretty rough time.
Do you feel any responsibility as someone who is showcasing the sport in images to make sure the viewers perceive climbing in a certain way? For example, would you photograph solo climbing?
That’s a great question. I don’t personally feel that it’s my duty as a photographer to document only best practices. Speaking strictly from a photographic standpoint, often the most dangerous objectives make for the most impressive photos. I think that to the outsider, all climbing looks dangerous, and there are many aspects, free-soloing included, that the uninitiated would never understand. However, I’m not going to avoid shooting something because I wouldn’t personally choose to do it. There are people out there doing insane things every day, and they should be documented.
What equipment do you usually bring on a shoot?
I pack a variety of equipment depending on the objective. If we are going cragging and I can afford to bring a bunch of gear, I’ll pack a kit of multiple camera bodies and lenses so that I can have a bunch of different choices for focal lengths while I’m shooting. However, if we’re headed into the alpine I usually only bring one light DSLR with a couple select lenses; recently my picks have been the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 for their light weight.
How is doing work in the Northeast different from other places, and what do you like about it?
I think the Northeast has definitely been underrepresented in the past few years. With the explosion of social media, everyone is always clamoring to visit the locations with the grand, sprawling views. The Northeast doesn’t really have many of those, so I understand the draw to the Western US. However, what the Northeast lacks in grandiosity, we make up for in intensity. We have some of the burliest conditions in the lower 48, and I really love the challenge of trying to capture that in my imagery. Last year while we were on a ski trip in the north of Iceland, I was driving around town, witnessing the frigid living conditions first-hand. I said to a friend, “Why do people live here? This life is so brutal, cold and windy all the time.” His response to me was, “Why do we live in New Hampshire?” There’s something uniquely alluring about life in northern New England. It’s certainly not an easy life, but that’s what makes it exciting. Climbing is no exception to that. Our climbs can be dirty, overgrown, sweltering hot, or even covered in the snow, but it makes our area fun and it’s what I try to capture.
What’s one dream photography destination?
Last year on a flight back from Iceland, we flew over Greenland. I’m pretty sure my jaw actually dropped when I saw all the snow covered mountains. Ever since then I’ve been scheming of ways to get there.
Do you think about how you want to compose a certain shot a day/week/month before, if it’s a big job?
I definitely do. It’s a trap, but I do it anyways. One of the biggest challenges that I think every photographer learns to deal with is not always nailing the shot that they envision. No matter how large of small the shoot is, I’ll generally research the climb and go into the shoot with a few different ideas for images I’m really stoked on. Of course, 95% of the time they don’t pan out, and it’s really easy to get frustrated. However, so much of climbing and photography is just learning to adapt to the conditions, so you have to adjust. Learning to spot and capture the unplanned moments is something that comes as a great challenge to me, but I’m constantly trying to improve on it.
Any advice would you give aspiring sports photographers?
Spend more time studying your idols than studying the equipment. When I first got into sports photography, I was so equipment obsessed that most of my time was dedicated to researching the newest and best camera gear. I think a lot of sports photographers fall into this trap, since it’s a very equipment-heavy genre of photography. However, once I stopped caring about the gear and instead spent all that time studying the images from the greats in this industry, I drew a lot of inspiration and my photos got much better. Also, get used to the alpine start. There will be a lot of them.
You can see more of Brent Doscher’s work in the Northeast and beyond on his website: www.brentdoscher.com and you can follow him on Instagram at @bdoscher.