Climbing gym

At 60, Arroyo Seco’s climbing guide still reaches some of the world’s most rugged peaks | Winter sports

Maybe you saw him at Taos Cow or on the Wheeler Peak trail. You may have seen him help an injured skier at Taos Ski Valley, where he works as a ski patroller, or descend from the ledge along Highline Ridge on a powder day. But what you might not know is that this local adventurer, Dave Hahn, has organized excursions that extend far beyond the borders of Taos County – in fact, they have covered much of the globe.

Hahn is an expert guide, with experience on towering peaks like the Vinson Massif in Antarctica (16,050 feet), Denali in Alaska (20,310 feet), Mount Rainier in Washington State (14,411 feet) and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,341 feet). He has climbed Mount Everest 15 times, and in 1999 he climbed with the team that discovered the remains of legendary mountaineer George Mallory.

But perhaps because he’s spent so much time around such awe-inspiring peaks, Hahn is humble when talking about his adventures.

“I’m a bigger climbing star to my friends than to the climbing world. People may know me more for summiting Everest 15 times than for the Mallory expedition. Every once in a while someone contacts me because they just found out about Mallory’s story. If they know me for the Everest peaks, they may not know me much longer. I will soon be on the scrap heap of history since I am no longer climbing it.

Dave Hahn chose a profession that took people to the highest and most dangerous places on Earth, which meant he also witnessed the occasional tragedy. That’s why Hahn’s top priority is safety. He considers himself a guide – not a “real climber” – as his goal is constantly to get his teams up and down safely.

“If someone asks me in winter, I’m a ski pisteur,” he says. “If he asks me while I’m guiding, I’m a mountain guide. If they ask me in October I’m a not so good hiker and biker.

Hahn moved to New Mexico in the winter of 1984, working first at Angel Fire, then at TSV as a ski instructor and finally a ski patroller, beginning in 1991.

He was born in Japan in 1961 and grew up in San Francisco and upstate New York. His late mother was from New Mexico, so his fascination with the Land of Enchantment began when he was a child; he said his family often took road trips to visit his mother’s home state. When Hahn graduated from Buffalo State University in New York, he said he didn’t yet know what he wanted out of life, like many young graduates.

Then he takes root in Taos, and from there grows his fascination for the mountains.

“At the same time I came to Taos in 1985, I discovered Mount Rainier…New Mexico in the winter and Washington State in the summer. While I spent a lot of time elsewhere, New Mexico was my home. I bought a house here in 2000,” he said.

His home in Arroyo Seco reflects his time in the mountains and includes a collection of antique oxygen canisters he rescued from Everest, photographs taken during his career and shelves full of books – many of which describe some peaks he has climbed throughout his life.

Dave smiles when asked about life during COVID. He was able to guide again from March 2021, but said he found some value in the pause the pandemic shutdowns imposed on himself and his neighbors.

“New Mexico was definitely my home, but there were many years when I didn’t spend a lot of time off ski season here. During the lockdown, I was fully here for the first time,” he said. “I spent over a year sleeping in my own bed, which had never happened before. It was quite heartwarming because I really love the house.

His first time out of the enchanted circle after the lockdown was lifted was guiding a heli-skiing party in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains last winter about 75 miles west-northwest of Anchorage.

“Helicopter season was one of the first things to ‘back to normal’ during COVID – but there was an accident during our operation. It’s been a tough season no doubt. He’s had a tough season with five dead (due to a helicopter crash) It was hard to get back on that horse – to come back flying on helicopters in the mountains a few days later. a solid team. We went back because we like our job. Unfortunately, it was not the first time that I faced difficult things in the mountains.

The crash killed several of Hahn’s friends and fellow guides, as well as Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, according to The New York Times.

Spring 2021 was followed by a full guiding season that brought Hahn back to Denali, Rainier and Vinson. Dave recently returned to ski patrol after two consecutive Vinson expeditions during the Antarctic “summer” in late 2021 and early 2022. The COVID testing protocol before “stepping on the ice” included five test days in Chile, he said.

Hahn has traveled to Antarctica since 1995, including some travel and guidance via ships, but relying mostly on planes to reach Vinson, which he has now reached 39 times.

“Quite often the appeal of Vinson is for those interested in the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent,” he said. “Vinson is far from the rest of the world and very cold. In terms of climbing, it’s easier than Denali or Everest. But it’s cold – a beautiful day in December – summer could be minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit s ‘there’s no wind or bad weather. You can’t really get to the top on a bad day.’

He said frostbite is always a danger in these freezing climates. The mountain is just over 16,000, but near the South Pole, 16,000 seems a bit higher than at the equator. The atmosphere is less dense at the poles.

Hahn’s summer of 2021 included both Denali and Rainier. He explains that due to the weather, a three-week trip to Denali doesn’t always result in a summit.

“In July 2021 we turned around for stormy weather,” he said. It happens with Denali.”

“I’ve tried Denali about 37 times,” he continued. “I only managed to reach the top 24 times. It’s kind of normal to get slapped. He has very good defenses in terms of difficulty and difficult weather. The challenge is to guide others. I don’t can really impress anyone these days dragging my own carcass up those peaks.

Although Rainier is one of its “home hills”, the late season climb has become tricky, with overly hot conditions and melting glaciers.

In 2022, Hahn is expected to return to Tordrillos, Rainier, Denali, Kilimanjaro and Vinson, if the pandemic cooperates. The public health situation presents particular challenges for guiding and climbing since teams live in such close quarters for days and weeks at a time. Hahn primarily guides for Rainier Mountaineering, which requires climbers to be fully vaccinated.

Now 60, Hahn knows he pushes his body a little harder each year he gets out and guides again, but he has no plans to quit the job he loves.

“The world I live and work in asks me, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ I don’t go to Everest anymore, but between Rainier, Denali, TSV, Vinson and Kilimanjaro, my year is still busy.