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M8 Pushes Limits of Ground-Up Trad Mixed Climbing in WY

Aaron Mulkey leading Defibrillator (M8, 40m) in the South Fork of the Shoshone Valley, near Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Tanner Callender

Aaron Mulkey, who has been called “the patriarch of ice climbing in Cody, Wyoming,” has led a new line in the South Fork of the Shoshone Valley. Defibrillator (M8, 40m) is among the hardest mixed climbs in the area. Mulkey says it is “definitely one of the more challenging mixed lines I have done.” Since moving to Cody in 1999, Mulkey has established more than 60 new ice routes in the area, including the Gambler (WI6+) and My Morning Glory (WI5+), with his recent attention turned to the overlooked potential for mixed lines.

The climb, which lies about ten feet right of Left Ventricle (WI 4-5, 40m), can only be accessed by climbing Broken Hearts (WI5, 200m), a South Fork classic composed of four moderate pitches that bring climbers to an amphitheatre with three columns of increasing difficulty. The South Fork Valley is known for its abundance of stellar ice and a relative paucity of climbers: “Here, tales of untouched, steep, blue sheets of ice are actually true, Mulkey wrote on

The region also harbors some stout mixed lines. Well to the right of Defibrillator lies Carotid Artery (WI6/ M7), first climbed by Alex Lowe and Todd Cozzens in the early ’90s. On his website, Mulkey writes that Carotid Artery forms as a WI6 every few years, but has never been repeated as a mixed route.

“It’s a passion of mine to tick Alex’s routes,” said Mulkey, of the numerous ice and mixed lines outside of Cody that bare Lowe’s name. “I’ve only got two left.” Lowe’s first ascents in the region include Ovisight (WI6, 180m) and Last Climb Before the War (WI6, 120m), both climbed in 1991 with Stan Price. Though only a few climbers make their home in Cody, a visit to the icefalls of the Shoshone Valley has become almost a rite of passage for great American alpinists: Twight, Lowe and House are just a few of the once and future legends to seek blue pillars outside of Cody.

High on the first ascent of Defibrillator, Mulkey fell, popping a sandy cam placement and dropping nearly 40 feet before his next piece caught him. “The tool placements are blind,” explains Mulkey, referring to the bulge where he peeled off Defibrillator. “You just scrape until you feel it catch and pray.” One tool remained stuck at his high point, forcing him to lower and borrow tools from his partner, Chris Guyer, before a second attempt. With no other options, he replaced the same cam in the same dirty crack. Looking down, he felt a 70-pound weight come onto his head: the block that formed the dubious placement had pulled off entirely. “Is it on my head?” he yelled down to Guyer. “Yep,” came the response.

Before and after. While putting up Defibrillator, Aaron Mulkey took a 40-foot fall, climbed back to his highpoint, then managed to stay on the wall when a 70-pound block came loose on his head. [Photo] Tanner Callender

After extricating himself from the block and sending it down, Mulkey was left with few options. He was nine feet above his last piece, and “there were no feet; but I couldn’t downclimb.” Scratching blindly again, he weighted his tools and allowed his feet to swing out, pulling through onto lower-angle–but still overhanging–terrain.

The second crux came as a verglassed slab, the exact converse of the earlier bulge. Tenuous pick placements and delicate feet carried Mulkey across, to the left, where he joined Left Ventricle for the final ten feet.

“The traverse proved that it’s never over until its over,” Mulkey wrote on his blog. It “was like fun… but different.”

Sources: Aaron Mulkey,,,,