Hey, Spike! interviews a world-class mountaineer
Ryan Summerlin December 20, 2012
Writing, reading, meeting and greeting, such is the life of a soc-biz columnist. It’s never dull. Merci.
Taking in the annual Christmas party at Copper Mountain, hosted by Carbonate Real Estate and Property Management owners Tom and Diane Malmgren and son Eric and wife, Victoria, means visiting with family and friends gained over decades.
This year’s gathering offered the opportunity to meet a world-class mountaineer who has longtime ties to The Summit.
Thor Kieser, a native Coloradan, has returned to spend the winter in Frisco, along with wife, Joy Torreon of the Philippines.
Additionally, Thor is Kristie Huff’s brother. She is married to Phil Huff, the UpSki developer and adventurer, computer expert and former Copper ski patroller. They are also all sailors.
Kristie is a Copper slope maintenance foreman with 33 years of on-mountain service.
Brother Thor, now 54, was on the Copper Mountain Ski Team from 1973-77, and lived here from 1979-83, working at Dick and Chuck Roy’s Sharpshooter Photography a few seasons and as a cook in The Plaza at Copper and supervisor at Union Creek.
“In the summer I climbed and raced Star sailboats on Lake Dillon,” he says.
Afterward, Thor attended the University of Denver, graduating in 1986, then founded Condor Adventures, and began a career as an international mountain guide, climbing and trekking in Asia, South America and Africa.
“I needed a way to access the big mountains and could only afford to get there through guiding,” says Thor of starting his adventure company.
Since our meeting, Spike is reading Ed Viesturs’ “No Shortcuts to the Top,” in which Thor gets a lot of play during the life and death struggles in climbing K2, the world’s second highest peak, in 1992.
Viesturs has bagged the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks and climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen. In his book he acknowledges the earlier backing of Ian and John Cumming of Mountain Hardware fame, who now own Copper Mountain Resort.
Also, in Ed’s book, Thor’s international affair with French climbing star Chantal Mauduit, whom he helped rescue on K2 with the aid of Ed and Scott Fisher, is well noted.
“I am glad he and Scott did not die in an avalanche trying to help me get Chantal down on K2,” he says.
Later, Chantal would die in 1998 on Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh highest peak.
“I was not surprised to hear of Chantal’s death as she was reckless and way too casual in her approach to big mountains,” he notes.
“After guiding Everest in 1995,” explains Thor, “I decided that guiding on 8,000-meter peaks was too risky and began investing in multi-family real estate in Denver. The next year on Everest (1996) was the guiding disaster and my feelings about big mountain guiding were confirmed. I was friends with Scott Fisher and Rob Hall and very close to Anatoli Boukreev, who climbed with me on Makalu and Broad Peak.”
“The loss of Anatoli was hardest for me emotionally,” Thor adds of his Russian climbing friend.
Those eight deaths were the basis for Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air,” later adapted for the big screen.
“The death of many friends sobered my view of Himalayan climbing and by the year 2000 I had eased myself out of guiding because my real estate business had boomed,” he says.
Some highlights of Thor’s climbing career:
Second ascent of “The Fang” in East Vail, 1980; Cassin Ridge (Denali); new route on north face of Pucarana in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, and many difficult routes in Peru; south face of Aconcagua; Cerro Torre in Patagonia; Rakaposhi; attempt of Everest West Ridge; climbed within 100 meters of K2 summit; Gasherbrum II; got within 60 meters of Makalu summit, Broad Peak; and a few big wall rock climbs in the USA – El Capitan, Sundevil Chimney on The Titan, among others.
His toughest adventure: “My experience on K2 is the most well known and perhaps the toughest, although I was more scared on some of the difficult climbs I have done in the Andes – solo the south face of Huayna Potosi; solo the north face of Illampu; south face of Pisco was very scary and we were lucky to survive the steep, thin, unprotected ice and loose snow.”
Thor has climbed with Eric Malmgren, also an international mountain climber, now 37.
“Eric and I have climbed extensively in the USA and he went with me to Aconcagua and Broad Peak early in his career,” Thor recalls.
Currently, “We are in Frisco to ski,” he notes. “I am rock climbing these days, but retired from ice climbing when the sport got too popular 10 years ago – so I won’t be climbing in Summit or Eagle counties this winter.”
“In the spring, summer and fall we will live in our Airstream trailer and travel domestically for climbing, mountain biking and kiteboarding,” says Thor, “mostly spending our time in the western USA with occasional international adventures to Asia, and perhaps Europe.”
“Joy is fairly new to climbing. I will encourage her to realize her full potential as a climber and see where we end up,” he emphasizes.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years.
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