MichaelgSeamans's Blog

Illiterate ramblings from a photographer.

Archive for March 2010

Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains: Guest Blog by Climber Chad Butrick

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Chad Butrick takes in the sights from the top of the Uncompahgre Gorge in Ouray, Colo., on Feb. 11, 2010.

For over two months I have been documenting two disabled climbers train and prepare to do what some think to be impossible or just simply preposterous.  Butrick and climbing partner Chad Jukes, hope to be the first all disabled climbing team to climb three formidable technical ice routes on two mountains in the Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range. The story has been told largely through my words and images. Sure I’ve pretended to be a reporter and use quotes to help bridge the gap between my world and that of the two Chads. But, I could never pretend to tell this story as well as the people who have set out to laugh in the face of their injuries.

In this installment I am handing over the reigns to Chad Butrick to tell you about this endeavor in his own words with my images.  With out further ado, Mr. Chad Butrick. (crowd cheers here) Check out the gallery of Chad Butrick at bottom of this post. Some pictures you have already seen and others are new. Enjoy.

If you have any questions for Chad please comment on the blog and he will answer as best as he can.

In Chad’s Words.

Chad Butrick sinks his pick into the ice while leading the fourth pitch of Horsetail Falls on Red Mountain Pass south of Ouray, Colo., on Feb. 18, 2010.

September 13, 2005 changed my life. I was traveling from Kansas City, Mo., to Columbia, Mo., to complete a private investigation. During that time I worked for First Advantage Investigative Services conducting all sorts of private investigations. Approximately, 40 miles from Columbia I was involved in a motor vehicle collision. My life was changed – after a life flight, ambulance ride, five surgeries, intravenous antibiotics, 4 months (one and a half of those in a hospital) I woke up in a hospital bed facing the reality that I would be an amputee for the rest of my life. Twenty eight years old and I was disabled.

The outdoors have always drawn me in. I remember when my parents told me that we were moving to Montana. We were camped at Round Lake in Idaho. My brother Curtis and I were in an old Army style green tent. I was pumped and with good reason. I had fun with the outdoors in Montana. Whether it was climbing up to the cliffs behind the water tower, riding a bike out to the lake to catch dinner, or the failed attempt to climb Ksanka peak (unbeknownst to my parents) living in Montana was great. We moved from Montana when I was 16 to the midwest. I missed the mountains but found my place in the midwest.

“To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.” — Sir Francis Younghusband

During the convalescence, the weight of my new reality was fully on me. What did life look like after loosing a leg? What would I do and how would I do it? After asking my nurse case manager how I was ever going to hike or climb again she told me, “Get new hobbies.” Right then and there I made the choice to take control of my life and chase my dreams. To never take no for an answer and to show that disabled does not mean unabled. I had tasted the choice gifts that the mountains had to offer. I would like to thank that nurse case manager, you motivated me more than you know. I knew the struggle and some how in the weakness of my situation I would endure the struggle and continue to wrestle with the mountains. It is funny to me how weakness has the potential to bring strength.

Fast forward to early Jan 2010 I am working with my parents building a deck on my house and I get a call from my friend Chad Jukes. I had met Chad during an Ice Climbing event sponsored by Paradox Sports in Ouray CO. Chad got right to the point and asked me if I was up for climbing in Alaska. It took me half a second to decide and here we are training for the climb of our life. (so far)

Alaska is this whole other world that I have only dreamed about. On a trip to South Korea I landed in Anchorage on a lay over. I remember staring at Mt. McKinley out of the window of the plane thinking that I would be there one day. It is truly and honor to participate in a climb like this and fulfill a dream. I am also honored that I have the opportunity to help a worthy non-profit (Amped Outdoors) as they assist other individuals with disabilities with their ice climbing program.

I would also like to thank Black Diamond, Paradox Sports and the other sponsors that are on board. You are making this possible. Thank you so much for your support.

Climb on!


Written by michael G. Seamans

March 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains: Training Nears The End

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Chad Jukes leads through a tight squeeze chimney of ice in the Ouray Ice Park on March 9, 2010. Poor snow conditions in the back country has kept the two Chads training in the Ice Park for the week.

Skip my ramblings and go straight to the photo gallery at the bottom of this blog if you’d like.

Click here and here to get back blog post for Two Climber, Two Feet and Two Mountains.

First things first. Chad Butrick was featured in The Denver Post as the poster child for Gimps On Ice in the Sunday, March 14, 2010 edition and was also interviewed by KUSA in Denver about Paradox Sports and Gimps On Ice. Check it out!

The past two weeks have been a blur, complete with a pre-Gimps On Ice party at the Butrick residence in Arvada, Colo., a harrowing late night drive down route 285 to Ouray, two major snowstorms and four attempts at two different back country routes. A perfect example of the planets falling out of alignment and answering the prayers of skiers rather than climbers.

The snow is deep and bounty full as usual for the San Juan Mountains in March. Not good for climbing in the mountains, especially in one of the most dangerous snow packs on the planet. Climbing in the Ouray Ice Park was the redeemer for the two Chads providing plenty of ice with no worries of avalanches or deep snow to trudge through with a prosthetic limb.

Chad Butrick, 33, of Arvada , Colo., lead climbs the ice route "Tangled Up In Blue" in the Ouray Ice Park to kick off Gimps On Ice in Ouray, Colo., on Friday, March 12, 2010. Butrick, the Executive Director of Paradox Sports is a right leg amputee and one of the organizers of Gimps On Ice.

The two Chads’ first attempt on Stairway To Heaven, a seven pitch grade III, 1200 ft ice route, was a test in walking through deep powder with one leg. An exhausting affair that consumed too much time forcing the team to turn back. The second attempt was nixed by a late start and a winter storm that ultimately dumped 12 inches in Silverton.

The third attempt was probably the most memorable and of course the one I was not present for. Food poisoning from the salad bar at City Market in Montrose, Colo., the night before kept me in the bathroom for a good 12 hours. Since I wasn’t on the climb shooting every move, Chad Butrick decided to take a whipper (fall) while leading the first pitch. The ice screw held and he was alright. He was a little banged up with a possible concussion, but otherwise alright. And with that the Chads packed up and headed back over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray.

Chad Jukes suffered for nearly two hours of post-holing up to his waist in the snow on the approach to the base of Stairway To Heaven in Eureka, Colo., on March 9, 2010.

The Chads joked about upping the anti after they climb in Alaska to come back and climb Stairway To Heaven next winter. Laughing is good. Laughing means an understanding that routes make themselves available to climb and do not always abide by the climber’s schedule. A valuable lesson to learn. You can’t force your way up a route and demand to conquer the mountain. Learning to turn around is one of the most valuable lessons in a climber can learn. The ability to say no when the conditions are not suitable to climb in will save a climber’s life.

Stay tuned for more the two Chads’ pursuit to climb in the Alaska Range. Next get together is scheduled for April 8th-12th. Maybe a trip to the desert will happen before then, though. Also be looking for a guest blog by Chad Butrick this week.

Written by michael G. Seamans

March 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Third Annual Gimps on Ice 2010-More Fun Than Shooting at Cars.

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Chad Butrick, 33, of Arvada , Colo., lead climbs the ice route "Tangled Up In Blue" in the Ouray Ice Park to kick off Gimps On Ice in Ouray, Colo., on Friday, March 12, 2010. Butrick, the Director of Operations at Paradox Sports is a right leg amputee and one of the organizers of Gimps On Ice.


The crunch of steel points penetrating the ice and the steady pulmonic groan of an exhausted climber echoed though the Uncompahgre Gorge as the afternoon sun waned over the mountains in Ouray, Colorado on Friday, March 12, 2010.

Chad Butrick, 33, of Arvada, Colo., leads his way up the 110 foot high ice flow in the world famous Ouray Ice Park and barks, “Off belay” followed by a loud and boisterous “Yes!”.

What makes this climb so special you ask? Butrick has only one leg. His right-leg was amputated below the knee after an automobile accident in Missouri in 2005. Only six weeks ago, Butrick was receiving ice climbing instruction from Amped Outdoors Technical Director, Mark Miller, on the small ice bump that overlooks the ice park called the Kid’s Wall. Now he’s leading the route “Tangled Up In Blue”, a long WI-4 (Water Ice Grade-4) ice climb in the Ice Park.

Chad Butrick, 33, of Arvada, Colo., gives the thumbs-up to Mark Miller (not seen) after leading Tangles Up In Blue in the Ouray Ice Park to kick off the second annual Gimps on Ice on March 12, 2010.

Butrick, along with 20 other disabled men and women converged in the tiny mountain town of Ouray, Colorado, with a common desire to identify, meet and exceed their limits. Paradox Sports and Amped Outdoors facilitated and organized the third annual Gimps on Ice that included three days of scaling frozen waterfalls and eating hot lunches in the Ouray Ice Park. The disabilities ranged from missing arms, legs, feet and fingers to an incomplete paraplegic and a full paraplegic.

The purpose for Gimps On Ice says, Chad Butrick,  director of operations at Paradox Sports and a right leg amputee, “To get people out. We want to build community and confidence for people with disabilities. And how best to do that than through ice climbing.”

Heidi Duce, of Ouray, Colo., follows Tangled Up In Blue in the Ouray Ice Park on Friday, March 12, 2010.

Heidi Duce, 19, climbs Tangled Up In Blue in the Ouray Ice Park as part of the second annual Gimps on Ice climbing event on Friday, March, 12, 2010.

Butrick, calls this the best adaptive program he has ever been to. “It’s not the actual program that makes it the best; it’s the town (Ouray). Everyone in this town just wants to help and see you succeed.”

Gimps on Ice – spawned from climber Malcolm Daly in 2008 while executive director of Paradox Sports. As the main sponsor, Paradox Sports’ goal is stated, “to provide inspiration, opportunities and adaptive equipment to the disabled community, empowering their pursuit of a life of excellence through human-powered outdoor sports.” And that is what Daly wanted to do through ice climbing. An already adaptive sport for all.

Malcolm Daly welcomes participants to the second annual Gimps on Ice at the kick-off dinner at the Ourayle House in Ouray, Colo., on Friday, March 12, 2010.

Daly, owner of Trango climbing equipment and Executive Director of Paradox Sports, lost part of his right leg in a climbing accident while attempting to climb a new ice route with Jim Donini in 1999 on the south side of Thunder Mountain, a spur of of Mt. Hunter in Alaska. Daly describes ice climbing as the perfect activity for the disabled because, “We only need one more piece of gear.” The nature of ice climbing is an adaptive sport for anybody to do so it seems like the perfect fit for disabled climbers.

Vijay Viswanathan, 24, of Breckenridge, Colo, a t5 paraplegic and sponsored climber, describes his second trip the event, “Gimps on Ice is a great way for me to access this place because all the volunteers coordinated a strategy to get me in and out and also help me jug a rope and climb in the canyon. Gimps on Ice gives me a great opportunity to experience this canyon.”

Vijay Viswanathan, 24, a parapalegic from Breckenridge, Colo., is lowered into the Uncompahgre Gorge for Gimps On Ice in Ouray, Colo., March 13, 2010. Gimps on Ice is an adaptive program facilitated by Boulder based non profit organization, Paradox Sports and by Ouray based non profit organization, Amped Outdoors to help the active disabled get out and climb ice.

Chad Jukes, 25, of Salt Lake City, Utah, a right-leg, below the knee amputee from an IED in Iraq in 2006, describes his second year in attendance and why this is so important, “there is people who have been disabled for a while and they thought their life in the outdoors is over. Just seeing those people get out and see they can do it is what makes this so special.” The simple idea that if I can get out and climb ice, imagine what else I can do. Jukes summed up Gimps on Ice by saying, “It [Gimps on Ice] was an amazing success. A great event. We got John, an incomplete paraplegic, to climb for the first time in 10 years. Those stories are what make Gimps on Ice a success. To get out and say “Wow! I can do this.”

The event does not only help the disabled realize their limits and climb beyond them. “I would say us getting out doing what we do has affected more lives of able-bodied people than disabled people. We are spiting our injuries and saying you will not stop us. We’ve come to the realization we want to do what makes us happy. And this makes us happy.” comments Jukes.

Chad Jukes, center, hangs out with fellow Gimp climbers at the bottom of the Uncompahgre Gorge in Ouray, Colo., on Sunday, March 14, 2010.

Jukes continues “I’m not saying everybody should quit their jobs and become a dirtbag climber. It’s about the individual figuring out what makes them happy, whether its finding more time to be with your family or just being able to go to the park with the kids. Paradox Sports and Amped Outdoors are here to help those people realize their dreams no matter how big or small they may be.”

For some, the event is about the personal challenge, but the common thread that they all share was said best by Jukes, “Gimps on Ice is like an annual recharge for me. I go to Gimps on Ice and there is so much energy and so much power and motivation. To see people who’s life has changed drastically – It gives me a little more motivation to get out and get after it.”

Remember to follow the epic journey Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains. The story of two disabled climbers’ pursuit to climb three technical routes in the Ruth Gorge of the Alaska Range this May

Written by michael G. Seamans

March 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains: The Beginning

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Chad Jukes belays his climbing partner, Chad Butrick during a day in the Ouray Ice Park on Feb. 17, 2010.

Welcome back to another installment of borderline illiterate word-smithing by a photographer. In this week’s blog, I have included HTML links to provide background information where I thought might be helpful. And since this is a photo blog, I will try to be lighter on the words and heavier on the images. So, check out the gallery at the bottom of the page.

I’m excited to get everyone up to speed on the progress of the two Chads’ pursuit to be the first disabled climbers to climb, unassisted Shaken Not Stirred and Ham and Eggs on the Moose’s Tooth and the North Coulior on Mini Moonflower in the Alaska Range. Now, with about 20 days of shooting downloaded to the hard drive; it’s time to start sharing!

On Feb 8, 2010, Chad Jukes and Chad Butrick met to climb together for the first time in the Ouray Ice Park. The Ice Park is the perfect training ground for ice climbers. It boasts nearly 200 routes, all a hop, skip and jump from the parking lot. This  provides easy access for climbers to practice skills and techniques at all difficulty levels. Ouray’s location also makes the tiny town a hub for climbers to access back country ice climbing routes in the San Juan Mountains. One day a climber can top rope on steep hard ice in the Ice Park and the next day that same climber could be climbing long routes in the back country of the San Juans. All this within eye sight of the nearest watering hole. It truly is a climber’s paradise.

Chad Butrick practices his climbing technique in the Ouray Ice Park on Feb.11, 2010.

Chad Jukes, 25, is an experienced rock climber. He began ice climbing two years ago during a trip to the Gimps on Ice Festival in Ouray. Since then he’s been hooked. His first multi-pitch ice route was the well known Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride that Jukes climbed with Erik Weihnmayer in 2008.

Chad Butrick, 33, has a mountaineering background with experience in rock climbing. He has climbed 47 of the 53 fourteen thousand foot peaks in Colorado over 150 times. There is a breadth of climbing experience between the two climbers. The goal for the two Chads’  is to get on, and stay on, the same page.

Chad Jukes leads the first pitch of Horsetail Falls on Red Mountain Pass on Feb. 18, 2010. The first pitch is the crux pitch at a difficulty of WI-4.

Chad Butrick plunges his ice tool in to the snow as he tops out the fourth and final pitch of Horsetail Falls on Red Mountain Pass south of Ouray, Colo., on Feb. 18, 2010.

Juke’s and Butrick’s first couple of days consisted mostly of rope soloing and top roping on mellow terrain in the Ice Park. As the first week melted away into the second, the climbers ratcheted up the workouts going every day, from sun up, to sun down.

The Ice Park is great for  many reasons. A climber can climb many laps in the Park, honing skills through repetition such as efficiently swinging ice tools and fine tuning foot work with prosthetic limbs. And because of the Park’s easy accessibility, routes can be broken up in to multiple pitches to practice the technical aspects of climbing  like building belay stations and lead swings. The very skills needed to tackle any back country climbing route in the mountains.

The pinnacle of the training culminated on a back country climb on Red Mountain Pass named Horsetail Falls. Horsetail Falls is a moderate WI-4(Water Ice) ice route, four pitches in length and approximately 500 feet long. A pitch is approximately one rope length (rope length is 60 meters or approximately 200 feet). Not every pitch is a full rope length, however.

Mark Miller, a senior guide for San Juan Mountain Guides and one of the founders of the non profit organization, Amped Outdoors, describes success on these Alaska routes in terms of speed and efficiency. Make efficient lead changes and belay changes, reduce time where you can because an extra five or ten minutes at every pitch on Mini Moonflower, which is 14 in case you were wondering, really adds up. Speed and efficiency will make the difference in whether or not you reach the top. Motivation for the Chads’ to work hard and stay focused. And of course team building sessions at O’Brien’s Pub and the Ourayle House Brewery over malted beverages never hurts either.

Stay tuned for Gimps on Ice March 12-14, 2010,  from the Ouray Ice Park.

All images are copyright by Michael G. Seamans. Any other use is prohibited without written permission.

Written by michael G. Seamans

March 7, 2010 at 8:46 am