Mountaineering legend Dave Hahn still looking for a test | Adventure

TAOS SKI VALLEY – A trio of waste pickers scurry through the snow past Dave Hahn as he walks in his ski boots along Highline Ridge and gazes out at the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains under bright blue skies.

The Arroyo Seco resident and 30-year veteran of the Taos Ski Valley Ski Patrol is one of the few mountain figures who can sometimes distract skiers and snowboarders from the highly valued avalanche rescue dogs. trained and very cute when they pass. .

Although he wears a badge on his red patrol jacket stating “NOT A MOUNTAIN GUIDE”, Hahn is recognized as one of the most accomplished high altitude guides in the world.

To the Avalanche Dogs of Taos Ski Valley, he is recognized as someone who generously offers affection and throws snowballs into the air for them to jump and bite on their walks.

“Dogs love Dave. My dog, I think, would rather spend time with Dave than with me, ”said longtime patroller Alex Filiss, his voice expressing no resentment as he glanced at Sadie, a Labrador retriever. 3 year old retriever.

Sadie is not alone. Everyone wants to date Dave.

He’s like a comic book protagonist walking his dog, climbing mountains, blasting avalanches, heli-skiing, and saving humans with humble demeanor, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and an endless catalog of fascinating first-hand adventure stories. His only kryptonite appears to be at low altitudes, something he has spent his entire adult life avoiding.

At 58, Hahn has compiled a remarkable list of accomplishments for 34 years, guiding clients to some of the world’s most famous mountains.

He has climbed Mount Everest 15 times, more than any non-Sherpa climber. He has climbed Denali, the highest peak in North America, 24 times. He counted 38 peaks of the Vinson massif in Antarctica, known as “the top of the bottom of the world”. And in Lower 48, he made over 300 peaks of Mount Rainier.

There was no goal in mind with any of these mind-blowing numbers. Hahn says he just loves big mountains, loves to guide and is keen to take on the physical and mental challenges he faces in these rugged environments.

“It’s part of what I’ve always needed from these mountains and what I always need. To be honest, I hope I don’t always need to test myself in the mountains because I probably only have 30 more years left, ”Hahn said with a smile. “Ideally, at some point fairly quickly, I won’t need this daily test to see if I’m still up to par. But for now, yes, I still need it.

Hahn’s first test of the great mountains came on Rainier in 1985, the year after graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a history degree. He wanted to take a trip to Denali with his father, Ron Hahn, who was already an experienced mountaineer and climber, but his father urged him to climb Rainier first to prepare for what would be a grueling ascent of the 20-year-old giant. 310 feet. in the interior of Alaska.

During a weeklong rock climbing instructional seminar, Hahn met guides who were only five to ten years older than him and who had hiked mountains around the world. The experience opened her eyes to a new possibility for what was previously an uncertain future.

“It was the first time I came to the northwest and saw these kind of mountains; I was blown away by it, ”said Hahn, who grew up in California and upstate New York. “About five minutes after meeting the guides, it was crystal clear, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ “

Hahn was hired as a guide the following year, summit Denali with his father, and so began a globetrotting lifestyle that made Hahn one of the top guides. most accomplished altitude in history.

In addition to his many peaks, Hahn was a member of a 1999 expedition that discovered the remains of famous English climber George Mallory, who died with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine in 1924 in an attempt to be the first climbers to climb. Everest. Hahn has also received numerous awards for saving mountaineers on Everest, Denali, and Rainier.

It is now Hahn who inspires and supervises the new generations of guides.

Linden Mallory was 18 when he joined Washington-based Rainier Mountaineering Inc. He began working as an assistant on Hahn’s ascents to Rainier in 2004, and eventually worked with Hahn on trips to Denali and the Himalayas for 10 years with RMI.

“The impact Dave has had on me goes way beyond guiding,” said Mallory, now Global Product Line Manager for Patagonia. “In a time when people pretend they’ve done it all, Dave really did. But he balances all of his experience with quiet humility.

Linden Mallory, left, and Dave Hahn stand at Mount Everest Base Camp on an expedition in 2011. Hahn, below in front of the summit, has peaked Everest 15 times, more than any other not -Sherpa.

Mallory has taken a handful of Himalayan trips with Hahn, in various positions, and has climbed Everest with him on one occasion. The experience left him in awe of Hahn’s skills in a changing and difficult environment.

“He’s really intentional and focused, but the next thing you know is that he kind of hit things off,” Mallory said. “Dave’s attention to detail in the Himalayas blew me away. He really showed me the value of looking, listening and being in tune with the mountain.

Although he lived a nomadic lifestyle, Hahn’s home port remained the Taos region. His mother grew up in Albuquerque and he says some of his earliest childhood memories were of road trips through the high desert and mountains of New Mexico. The state has always had an influence on him.

“When I got out of college and didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew where I wanted to go,” Hahn said.

Dave hahn

Taos Ski Valley ski patroller Dave Hahn, standing, jokes with fellow ski patroller Alex Filiss on a December day at Ski Patrol Headquarters. Hahn and Filiss have worked together on the TSV Ski Patrol since the 1990s.

He first worked as a ski instructor with Angel Fire in 1985, then moved to Taos Ski Valley in 1986. After five seasons, he joined the ski patrol in 1991 and has held that position every season since. He says the physically demanding job of patrolling steep inclines and hauling heavy gear uphill keeps him in shape when guiding larger mountains.

After spending the spring, summer, and fall guiding global and national expeditions, Hahn still looks forward to returning to Taos Ski Valley, where he has developed close bonds with longtime patrollers, skiers and others. who frequent the mountain every winter.

Gary Johnson, the two-term former governor of New Mexico who has long been involved in extreme and endurance sports, met Hahn in the mid-1990s and turned to Hahn to help him achieve one lifelong goal – to reach the highest peak of the seven continents. .

After signing up for a 2003 Everest expedition, Johnson fractured his shin in January and was due to leave for the Himalayas in March. He said Hahn, the expedition’s lead guide, gave him the confidence to continue.

Dave said, ‘Gary, you can lie on the couch, eat crisps, drink beer and you would still be the fittest guy I ever took on Everest,’ “Johnson said. . “Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it helped to hear her say that. “

Hahn, who Johnson describes as a “chef de mission” on the mountain, led a successful expedition and Johnson reached the summit on his healing leg. In 2014, Hahn guided Johnson to the top of the Vinson Massif to help him achieve his dream of “Seven Summits”.

“I thought we left for Everest as very good friends and came back from Everest as best friends and it has been like that ever since,” Johnson said.

On a few occasions, Johnson has said he had discussions with his friend about the possibility of quitting while he was early. Even with experience and precautions, an unlucky break can result in serious injury or death in Hahn’s profession.

Hahn saw many disasters happen on the climbs, but said he made fewer mistakes as he got older and wiser and didn’t look for so many “borderline situations.” ” than previously. He is still blown away by the great mountains, and his passion for guiding has not weakened.

“To date I’ve had a lot of expeditions that have turned out to be almost perfect, but that still wouldn’t stop me from trying to do the same trip next year and come out better,” said Hahn. “It’s one of those things that you keep biting your teeth on to try again.”