Legendary climber, Aspen patroller dies at 81
March 15, 2012
ASPEN – Harvey T. Carter’s nickname gives a pretty good indication of the kind of guy he was, according to former colleagues on the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol. Carter was called “Balls” when he worked on the mountain in the late 1960s and ’70s.
“That name applied all around,” said Gene Clausen, who worked on the Aspen Mountain ski patrol from 1968 until he retired last November. “It didn’t matter what it was.”
Carter was a legendary rock climber who achieved a remarkable number of first ascents on all sorts of terrain – from red-rock spires surrounding Moab and in other parts of the Utah desert to the alpine cliffs of Independence Pass and Glenwood Canyon.
He hucked cliffs and sailed off rocks long before marketing machines started hyping extreme skiing.
Carter died Tuesday in a hospice in Colorado Springs after a long battle with prostate cancer, according to Cameron Burns, of Basalt, a climber who became friends with Carter in 1994. Climbing blogs listed Carter’s age as 81.
“He was a tough, tough guy,” Burns said. They first met when Burns was a reporter at The Aspen Times in 1994. Burns was an avid and accomplished desert climber, often setting his sights on obscure spires, including some on Navajo lands – similar to what Carter had done 30-some years earlier. Carter was known for first ascents of three of the four famed spires at Fisher Towers, northeast of Moab on River Road. Another of Carter’s first ascents was on Priest, another famous formation close to Castle Valley.
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“A lot of people associate him with first ascents of thousands of routes,” Burns said.
Carter contacted Burns in 1994, following a pattern he long established in Aspen and elsewhere. He was known for aligning with young climbers that showed promise and sharing his experience. After they met, Burns took him to Independence Pass for a climb that he figured would be challenging but not imposing for the 63-year-old man.
“You’ve got to be in good shape to haul your butt up a 5.10 (-rated climb),” Burns said. “Harvey just powered up it.”
Carter grew up in Colorado Springs and started climbing in 1949, according to a 2008 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette. He was well-known and influential among climbers there. He joined the Aspen Mountain ski patrol in 1957, the Gazette article said, and spent summers traveling and climbing. He founded Climbing Magazine in May 1970 and sold it after two years to the late Bil Dunaway, former owner and publisher of The Aspen Times.
One of the young Aspen-area climbers Carter mentored in the late 1960s and early ’70s was Lou Dawson, who went on to become a famous ski mountaineer and member of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Dawson said they met while climbing routes along Independence Pass. The climbing community was small and tight then, so meeting someone of Carter’s stature was easy.
“He was quite a visionary,” Dawson said. He was fond of attacking small, challenging climbs that didn’t require much more gear than carabiners. That was way ahead of its time but something very popular now.
He also made life as a climbing bum attractive. While many people would take short, intense climbing vacations, Carter spent all possible time climbing.
“He really made it a lifestyle thing for a long, long time,” Dawson said. “He was a very special man. He meant a lot to me in my life.”
Michael Kennedy, an accomplished climber, author and former editor of Climbing Magazine, was another youth who learned from Carter. They made the first ascent of the International Route, the longest line in Glenwood Canyon, in 1975.
“He took me out and taught me a lot,” Kennedy said.
Carter was up for any challenge, according to Kennedy. He never bailed, even when routes proved more difficult than imagined.
“You never really knew what you were getting into,” Kennedy said. Sometimes Carter would find a gem of a climbing route in rock surrounded by woods. Other times they would be “thrashing about” on an incredible wicked route, he said.
Persistence and a sense of adventure were Carter’s trademarks. “He was super into doing new routes,” Kennedy said.
Other Carter trademarks were his rough edges and temper.
“The thing about Harvey that was intimidating was his gruff demeanor,” Dawson said. “He wasn’t, like, Mr. Nice Guy.”
Carter once set equipment on a route on Gold Butte, along the Rio Grande Trail near Aspen. Being young, energetic and cocky, Dawson used that equipment for a first ascent, breaking an unwritten rule of climbing. “He almost beat me up,” Dawson said.
They didn’t speak for years. But when Dawson broke his leg skiing a difficult backcountry line on the back of Aspen Mountain a couple of years later, Carter organized a rescue after the ski area had closed, possibly saving Dawson’s life.
Clausen remembered Carter being tough as nails as a ski patroller, though he wasn’t a large man. Carter was notorious for being late. One time he got in a road-rage situation with another motorist as he was driving to a parking lot below Lift 1 in Aspen. Carter parked and scrambled to punch in at the time clock. He had been warned several times not to be tardy. The other motorist also exited his vehicle and was punching away, bloodying Carter with each swing, Clausen recalled. Carter was just trying to swat his attacker off like a fly; he was focused on getting to work.
“Balls” was an appropriate nickname for the way Carter skied the mountain, as Clausen learned when he transferred from Buttermilk to Aspen in 1968.
“He had been on (the patrol) for quite a while and already had a hell of a reputation,” Clausen said. He soon learned why. Carter loved to take a 40-foot drop off a cliff in a glade off the Kristi trail. He constantly tried to get other patrollers to take the plunge with him on powder days.
Clausen capitulated once. He remembers looking down on the tops of trees and thinking he was going to die. He made the leap successfully.
Carter was also famous for skiing off what is still called Harvey’s Rock by the patrol. It’s visible from the Ajax Express chair, along the former lift line.
Carter got canned in 1979 for skiing closed areas of the mountain, which are now open to the public. He couldn’t resist skiing portions of the Dumps despite the prohibition, Clausen recalled.
Carter married once and had two children, but no specific information about his family was available. Burns said a memorial service is being planned for April in Colorado Springs.