Mountain Trip Celebrates 50 Years!

Back in the early 1970s, Mountain Trip was born of a dirtbag climber’s daydream. Gary Bocarde, our founder, is a hero, a mentor and a friend. Gary grew his legend as a climber by tackling iconic first ascents like The Shield on El Capitan in 1972, first ascents of every peak on the east side of the Ruth Gorge in Alaska (many of which were guided FAs), the first winter ascent of Mount Hunter via the Northwest Spur in 1980, as well as establishing the first big wall in Alaska, climbing the Southwest Face to the southwest summit of the Mooses Tooth in 1974

Gary also took his pursuits abroad and in 1980 with an American expedition, attempting to establish a new route on the south face of Gongga Shan, the highest peak in the Sichuan Province, China. He guided two trips to the Pamirs in the USSR, located between Central Asia and Pakistan, climbing 7,000-meter peaks throughout the region. In 1987, they led an expedition to summit the 7,000-meter peaks Piks Kommunizma, Korhenovskoi, and Lenin, located in current day Tajikistan. Gary recalls that base camp was extraordinary, with climbers from all over the world staying in the same place.

After this trip, they went to Pakistan to attempt Hidden Peak. The 100-mile walk-in was beautiful, with views of ripping peaks the whole way, including the famous K2, which rises to an incredible 28,251 feet. However, when they reached base camp it turned into one of the deadliest seasons on record. They made only one attempt at Hidden Peak and otherwise passed the days at base camp, spending more time participating in rescues than in their own pursuits. 

In 1981, he and a group of Americans made the first-ever attempt of the Kangshung Face, the last unclimbed face of Everest, which is accessed from the Tibetan side of the mountain. Although they did not reach the summit, they established a route that future expeditions would be able to utilize in attempting the Kangshung Face. In 1983, an American team returned and successfully climbed the route to the summit, now known as the Southwest Pillar on the American Buttress. 

(H) East Face-S Col: Neverest Buttress – 1988 International, (I) Southwest Pillar, East Face: American Buttress – 1983 American, (J) Integral N.E. Ridge – 1995 Japanese, (K) N. Ridge/N.E. Ridge – 1960 Chinese.

In 1986, Gary married Susan Havens, an accomplished climber and mountaineer. She was a member of the first all-female ascent of Ama Dablam in 1982 and the attempt of Dhaulagiri in 1980, both famous peaks in the Himalaya. She guided many trips up various routes on Denali as well, with the West Rib being her favorite route to guide. 

While the two were still dating, they planned a trip up Mount Russell, a rarely climbed peak in the Alaska Range. They never heard or saw it coming until the avalanche washed over them, burying Gary up to his waist and leaving a large gash on his forehead, and completely burying Susan, with only the top of her pack visible above the snow. 

Gary dug both of them out and they made their way back to camp, where they spent almost two weeks playing Backgammon and Scrabble, waiting for a weather window so the charter plane could pick them up. While this series of events may have led to the end of many relationships, Gary says that it was on this trip that they decided to get married. 

In the early ‘90s, Gary was still winning cycling and nordic races in Alaska and Europe. Gary’s adventurous spirit and incredible depth of knowledge and experience in the alpine has been the backbone of our company since the beginning, and continues to inspire us to this day. 

Nick Parker and Gary Bocarde in Yosemite, 1982 (Left). Gary Bocarde and Susan Havens, today (Right).

When Mountain Trip first started out in 1973, it was a small mountaineering school with trips in the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges of Alaska. However, during this time Gary offered some incredible trips, guiding many technical routes in the Alaska Range. He was the first to guide trips on Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter, guiding multiple ascents via a variation on the west ridge of Mount Hunter that he established in 1983. This variation was soon referred to by a local Alaskan ranger as “The Bocarde Variation.” 

In 1976, Gary jumped into the Denali guiding world, and not with just any old Denali West Buttress ascent. Gary guided the first (and only) Denali Hang Glider Expedition, with four flyers. One flier actually crashed on the South Face, but don’t worry! They all survived. 

Over the years, Gary and his guides primarily guided the West Buttress of Denali, the most popular route on the mountain, which climbs more than 13,000 feet of elevation from the snow airstrip on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. In 1981, Denali National Park began the current concessions system for guide companies on the mountain. Mountain Trip is one of the original concession holders and is the longest continually operating guide service on Denali.

Over the last 47 years of guiding on Denali, Mountain Trip has enjoyed guiding a variety of routes on the mountain, including the West Buttress, the Traverse of the West Buttress to the Muldrow Glacier, the Cassin, the South Buttress, the Muldrow Glacier route from the north, and the first guided ascents of the West Rib, the West Buttress Direct, and the Northwest Buttress. Mountain Trip has also guided many technical climbs and peaks in the area including Mooses Tooth, Mount Huntington, Mount Russell, Mount Deborah, as well as the first guided ascents of Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter.

By the early 2000s, Gary was thinking about swapping his time running a guide service for more time to bike, ski and climb. Enter Bill Allen and Todd Rutledge. Todd and Bill joined the Mountain Trip team as Denali guides in 1994 and 1995, respectively, and in 1997 they began their camaraderie, working as a guide team together on the mountain. When Gary made it known that he was looking to pass on the business, he approached Todd and Bill about taking up the reins.

Todd Rutledge (left) with his horse, Sage. Bill Allen (right) on the Lhotse Face of Mount Everest.

The deal was sealed when Todd and Gary climbed the uber-classic big wall route, Zodiac, on El Capitan. Back in the spring of ‘72, Gary had done the first ascent of the first three pitches of the route with Charlie Porter, but then Charlie took off to chase a girl instead and Gary was left to clean the route and rappel back to the ground. When Charlie went back to complete the route, Gary was already back in Alaska starting his guiding career. 

So when Todd asked Gary if he wanted to go climbing, Gary suggested they climb Zodiac so he could finally finish the route30 years later. After six glorious days on the wall and a promise of a new mountain bike later, Gary agreed to sell Todd and Bill the business.

Guides first and reluctant businessmen second, Bill and Todd purchased Mountain Trip in 2004 and moved the company down to Southwest Colorado. 

Following in Gary’s footsteps, Bill and Todd have continued to run the company to feel more like family than like a business. Guides who feel close bonds with one another will go the extra mile to support each other on the mountain. Guides who feel valued, respected and supported will return season after season, fostering a spirit of mentorship and camaraderie. Over the years, we have worked hard to grow that familial spirit, and it’s something we regularly receive positive comments about in post-expedition surveys.

The "Main Event" on the Telluride Via Ferrata with Bridal Veil Falls in the background. Photo by Josh King

Since 2004, Bill and Todd have grown the business to extraordinary new heights. A business that started on a piece of plywood on some milk crates in the attic of a cabin (accessed by climbing a ladder) has now grown to offer a huge range of guided trips in the Alaska Range, Colorado, and the Seven Summits (the highest peak on each continent, including Mount Everest). 

In just one year, Bill and Todd almost doubled the number of climbers guided up Denali, from 48 to 81. These numbers have continued to grow, and since taking the reins, Mountain Trip has guided more than 2,000 climbers up Denali! They have continued to run these trips with the mantra that everyone comes home in good health, everyone has a great experience, and everyone stands on the summit, without sacrificing the first goal for the last. 

In 2005, Mountain Trip started guiding Mount Vinson, Aconcagua, and Carstensz Pyramid. Longtime Mountain Trip guide Ryan Campbell led our first Everest expedition in 2007, and since then we’ve led nearly a dozen teams to the summit. In 2012, our first trip went up Mount Elbrus and in 2013 we guided Kilimanjaro for the first time. Mountain Trip now leads expeditions to all of the Seven Summits, although some of those trips are currently on hold due to local political situations.

Shadow of Kilimanjaro while on a Mountain Trip expedition.

In 2012, Bill and Todd opened up a small office on Main Street in Telluride, CO, and in 2013, with encouragement from a couple of their Colorado-based Alaska guides, Mountain Trip added local trips to the program to support their guides with year-round work. Starting the first season with only 25 guided clients on the Telluride Via Ferrata, interest quickly grew to 150 people the following year, then 350, 550, 850, 1,100, and finally to a record of 1,451 clients in 2021! 

What began as just a few local Colorado trips noted on a single whiteboard has grown to a bustling family of about 35 year-round local guides (Meet Our Guides), many of whom also guide for us in Alaska and around the world. Mountain Trip now offers local, daily trips on the Telluride Via Ferrata, Ouray Via Ferrata, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, peak ascents, as well as local alpine treks. 

In 2022, Mountain Trip acquired Peak Mountain Guides, changing the game for our guides and offering us the busiest winter season we’ve had to date. And this year, we opened a new office on Main Street in Ouray, CO. We are very excited to start leading more trips out in the Southern Utah desert, climbing cracks and towers in Moab, as well as the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.

Cornet Falls, Telluride, CO.

Even with all of this expansion over the years, Mountain Trip is a small outfit with a family feel, and we like it that way. We have grown and will continue to grow, but we’ll never offer any trips that we feel lack “soul.” We only want to offer trips and services that provide intrinsic value at the highest quality standard. As we like to say, “our strength is in our team.” We love what we do and it shows! This is at the core of our business and always will be. 

It has been an incredible honor to have the privilege to share these wild places with our guests and to act as stewards of our natural mountain resources. We are so grateful to have arrived where we are today, and excited to see what these next 50 years will bring!

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  1. Congratulations Mountain Trip on 50 years of Mountaineering guiding! Been with you on three expeditions (Denali 2005, Aconcagua 2013, Vinson 2015), all successful in aevery ways!! You are without a doubt the very best Mountaineering guide company I have had the pleasure to climb with!!
    Thank You for helping me achieve my Explorers Grand Slam goal!
    All my best!

  2. Congratulations, Mountain Trip. I had a great climb of Dallas Peak near Telluride a few years ago with Guide Fischer Hazen. He got me up and back safely, no problem. I really enjoyed it!

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