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Aaron Mulkey: Patriarch of Cody Ice

Aaron Mulkey on Hells Angel (WI5+), outside Cody, Wyoming, where the prolific ice explorer has made his home for the past decade. Mulkey and his partners have climbed dozens of virgin icefalls in the area; many of them are extremely remote. [Photo] Joel Anderson

Few are as dedicated to ice-climbing exploration as Aaron Mulkey, who has spent the last decade systematically searching the canyons of northern Wyoming for untapped lines. This year was no exception: Mulkey and his partners discovered and roped up on about two dozen ice climbs–all around the sleepy town of Cody–that he believes to be first ascents.

In “Blue Ribbon: Cody, Wyoming” in Alpinist 26, Mulkey explained that when he left the University of Colorado in 1999 and moved to a secluded town with a population of 9,300, most people thought he was crazy. They asked: Why leave behind an active climbing community? His answer: “By then, my life was entirely focused on searching for new icefalls.” Since then, he has established about 60 first ascents in the area.

Mulkey on Pitch 1 of Morning Glory (WI5+), Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Dan Miller

This year Mulkey and his partners established roughly 25 climbs near Cody. These include Pole Position (WI4, 35m) and Booby Trap (WI4+, 60m) with Doug Shepherd, Regulators (WI5+, 60m) with Steve Berwanger, Aaron’s Gift (WI5 M6, 60m) with Stephen Koch, Cosmic Aphrodite (WI4, 60m) and The Assassin (WI5, 60m) with Hillary Eisen and Power of Athena (WI5+, 30m), which he climbed solo.

Mulkey also wrangled a posse of strong climbers–Shepherd, Berwanger, Kitty Calhoun, Dawn Glanc and Kevin Craig–for a short trip this spring into a remote, undisclosed location. Over five days, the crew of six established 20 more ice climbs. Mulkey will reveal more about this trip in the coming months through video webisodes on his website,

“Although the majority of those climbs were not super difficult, I have found it’s not the hard WI6 climbs I’m searching for–it’s the remote places and camaraderie of great partners,” Mulkey said.

This year’s successes add up to an impressive tally that more than doubles the number of first ascents he climbed last year, which include The Gambler (WI6+), My Morning Glory (WI5+) and Hell’s Angel (WI5).

He has spent many fruitless days trudging in his boots, hunting vast swaths of land and isolated canyons for ice that may not exist. But the occasional gems he uncovers fuel his determination. After exploring one area thoroughly, Mulkey moves on to the next canyon or mountain range and begins the process again.

“I like to think of myself as a nomad of today exploring mountains for frozen treasures,” he said. “I have established many new lines, but it has come at a price of numerous days of hiking and no climbing… Although not every trip is successful, I have found it’s the chase that I enjoy more than anything.”

Mulkey’s sense of discovery stems from his childhood, when his father took him hunting every weekend. Father and son would meander deep into remote canyons to get away from other people. Even when the ice melts in the spring, Mulkey turns his attention to finding first descents–he has over 20–on remote creeks in his kayak.

This spring and summer Mulkey will not be boating exclusively. He said he’ll also be training for ice season, and he acknowledged that he has a motivational photo hanging in his training room. It’s a “300-foot pillar that has my name on it,” Mulkey said. It’s location? Conspicuously missing.

Mulkey celebrates nine new routes in one day. He and a cadre of strong climbers visited an undisclosed location this spring to establish about 20 new ice climbs in five days. Mulkey said the remote spot is about 15 miles from any road. [Photo] Kitty Calhoun

Doug Shepherd on a yet-to-be-named climb. [Photo] Aaron Mulkey

Mulkey on Regulators (WI5), Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Steve Berwanger

Mulkey on Insane in the Brain (WI4), Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Doug Shepherd