My First Time: Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker climbing

How one climber found his calling.

Bozeman-based climber and mountaineer Conrad Anker is used to overcoming adversity. From an ascent of Mount Rainier at age 16 to a successful summit of Meru Peak—a previously-unclimbed Himalayan mountain—Anker has the drive to ascend the hardest of routes. Some of his most formative adventures, however, took place as a youngster on trips to the High Sierras, where his family would pack in with mules for a week every summer. The mountain range offered plenty of space for his imagination to wander, and each year the activities progressed from shorter day-hikes to walkable summit attempts, until finally Anker and his dad made plans to climb Banner Peak in the Ritter Range. —Katie Darrow

So, Conrad, what happened on that Banner Peak expedition?
My father had these great plans to meet up with two climbing buddies one summer at the base of the peak. I have no idea how we pulled all the logistics together, back before cell phones or even fax machines, but we all met at the lake, ready to climb.

I’d always dreamed of climbing Banner Peak, and here I was, age 14, about to venture into an endeavor that was sure to test my abilities. We camped at Thousand Island Lake below the peak, and its daunting east face loomed above my impressionable young mind. I wondered, Do I have the skill and ability to make it to the top?

We left camp before the sun rose. We marched up, me in line behind the three older men, trying to match their footsteps, trying not to breathe too hard. And above all, trying not to look scared when it got a little bit exposed. We climbed up: traverses, a handhold here, a foothold there... and we eventually made it to the summit. Although not technical by the standards I climb at today, it did require a little bit of gold line (an old-school climbing rope) to get back down. We made it to camp—happy, tired, wind-worn, and thirsty.

For me, the expedition was a first glimpse, a taste of mountaineering, of being part of a team and working together towards a summit. On the way out, my pack seemed lighter. The sky was clear. It was at this moment, after having climbed the peak with my father and his two buddies, that I realized this could be my calling in life. The scent of the pine trees today still invokes my memory of the climb.

From then on, if my work or education didn’t have a component of climbing, I didn’t find it interesting. So, here’s to those first moments when we discover what we want to do in life, and when we have the strength, the courage, and the gumption to follow them and see where they take us. After all, if we don’t explore, what is the purpose of life?