A climber for nearly 20 years, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Seth Timpano has seen the world from some incredibly uncommon vantage points.
As a guide for Alpine Ascents International, he’s helped quite a few fellow climbers rack up some unbelievable sights of their own. We asked him where the drive upwards comes from, why he believes going ultralight is a great way forward, and what’s on his horizon.
Before we get going here, we want to say congratulations for the Piolets d’Or nomination of your 2017 Significant Ascent with Sam Hennessey of the Northeast Buttress of Barnaj I in the Himalayas! What does this acknowledgment mean to you and Sam?
Sam and I have teamed up for several first ascents in Montana, Alaska, and India with Barnaj I being the line we’re most proud of. To climb such an elegant line up an unclimbed peak in pure alpine style was reward enough. The moments during the climb, although fleeting, defines why I do it. Several world-class alpinists had their eye on Barnaj I, so we were psyched to be the first to ascend it and receiving a nomination for the Piolet d’Or was a nice tip of the hat for our effort.
Sam Hennessey scouting the Barnaj Group.
Does this sort of praise from a segment of the climbing community fuel the fire to go bigger right away, or take a little time to relax and reflect?
It fuels the fire insofar as it reminds me of that feeling when you stand on top of a mountain and when you return to basecamp utterly satiated. It is also exciting to read about all of the incredible ascents that are happening in the world of alpine climbing. But the recognition or lack thereof doesn’t drive me to climb.
Seth and Sam’s route on India’s Barnaj I.
Super easy question for you – why do you climb?
I climb because I love the high and wild places of the world.
Years spent skateboarding in my youth hardwired my brain to “scope out skate-able terrain” wherever I was – something I find myself still doing to this day. Do you have a similar affliction with climbing? What kinds of features attract you to a region?
Absolutely! I am constantly looking at terrain with ice climbing in mind – seeking that perfect recipe of terrain and climate that form long ice and mixed routes. My attraction grows if the region is unexplored or off the beaten path.
What is your favorite aspect of guiding? Kindred spirits? Recognizing progress? All the travel?
My favorite aspect of guiding is enabling others to experience beautiful places and safely climb high mountains around the world. Guiding and climbing have allowed me to travel around the planet, experience many unique cultures, and meet fascinating people. These relationships are equally rewarding as the climbing and make the trips enriching experiences.
(L) Seth crossing a Skybridge on Indonesia’s Carstensz Pyramid. (R) The team’s local Indonesian contact Poxi wearing rubber boots and a cigarette.
Have you always taken an ultralight approach to your endeavors, or has it been a process?
I definitely did not always take the ultralight approach and still have much to learn as it is an evolving process. I usually still have a heavier pack than my partners, but I’m learning how to carry less and suffer more! Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpacks have been a huge help in this evolution.
As a guide, you no doubt see repeat habits from less experienced climbers. If you could eliminate three hurdles that many greenhorns seem to go through, what would they be? Or do you believe they’re necessary for growth?
I am a firm believer that the best way to learn is to get out there and do it. Everyone is trying to take the fast track to the top these days – not just in mountain climbing but also in everyday life. Personally, I wouldn’t trade my early days of bashing around the mountains for anything as these are still some of my most cherished adventures. I learn more from my failed attempts than from the successes, and this was paramount to the learning process. Alpine climbing and mountaineering take years to refine and they’re challenging to expedite. Two clichés of advice would be Patience is a Virtue and Listen to your Gut.
What’s on the horizon for you?
My guiding season in the Pacific Northwest is winding down this month and then I’m off to Europe for a sport climbing trip with my girlfriend. Then I’ve got work trips to Antarctica and Nepal in the winter and spring followed by a personal trip to an unclimbed Himalayan face in the Fall of 2019.
Timpano rappelling off a Gendarme in Antarctica.