Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Harvey T. Carter died last week. If you didn’t know him, you missed a true Aspen icon. This isn’t the definitive obituary of Harvey – likely no one has that capability – but for those of us who knew him, the memory is strong.

He was a legendary climber, founded Climbing Magazine in 1970 and had a string of first ascents that is impossible for many to fathom today. I never climbed a step with him, although he invited me on a trip or two around the neighborhood. We were skiers, Harvey and I, ski patrolmen on the world’s finest mountain and there was a time I hung close, hoping a bit of the legend would rub my way, a foolish thought of youth.

Few could tell you what the “T” stood for in his middle name because most assumed that portion of his moniker to be “Balls.” On Aspen Mountain, there wasn’t much Harvey would go around, and if the term had been invented, he might have been called an “extreme skier.” There’s the celebrated big cliff jump to skier’s left of Kristi, the tight landing now grown in and dangerously congested compared to the days when Harvey negotiated its charms. If that’s too much for you, launch off of “Harvey’s Rock,” to skier’s right of Blazing Star (what kind of a name is that?). A homemade sign is still stuck up in a nearby tree, announcing the original designation. Most skiers are afraid of Harvey’s Rock: It takes off sooner than it should, and its landing is very close to the trees. When Harvey hucked it, there were trees on both sides of the run out. Few dared call him “Balls,” and in the sheaves of ski patrol documentation that accompanies reality, he’s generally listed as “HTC.”

Like a good stuntman, Harvey weighed the risks, calculated his chances and then pulled out all the stops. If you visit the Mikey Houser shrine at the top of the Short Snort cliffs, take a peek down toward Spar on a good powder day and pick your line. That’s how Harvey did it, but if you miss the landing, your hip joints will be up in your armpits by the time you remember where you are.

The tough rescues seemed to draw Harvey and me together, and we pulled off more than a few. The ugly wrecks seem to happen in the most mundane of places, many times on the flats, but once in a while you find one in an unsuspected place. Maybe best remembered is the dislocated shoulder victim we found near the top of Elevator Shaft, with a ski stuck between his legs to keep him from sliding down the pitch, his buddy hanging on to his waist for additional support. Harvey truly liked to muscle a one-man sled but usually wanted me to help on the steeps. We made a good team on the Face of Bell, Hanging Tree, the Ridge of Bell. And Elevator Shaft.

Harvey was fueled by a 50-year-old dream of developing a ski area on the west side of Pikes Peak, a life’s work that consumed him in every way imaginable. During the Aspen Mountain ski patrol strike in the early ’70s, Harvey spent an entire winter on his Pikes Peak property, a total hermit, a perimeter man if there ever was one. In 2008, he finally found a sponsor willing to back him, just before the economy went south. Perhaps, just the fact that he found an enthusiastic investor made the dream happen, at least in his mind.

Near the end, Harvey divided his life up into four segments, in his own words: “I got a college degree, which I figured I had to do; I got a job on the best ski patrol in the world – that was lucky; I got the most first ascents in the world – that was stupid; and if I get this done (ski area developed), it’s the last thing I’m doing.”

Unfortunately, Harvey died before he got it all done, but not because he didn’t give it all he had. The man, and his life, lives on in the hearts of those still here.

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