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Alumni Explorers
By Kerry Brophy

This issue’s Trailblazer Series proves that once you’re a NOLS grad, the fun is just beginning…


Carlos
Buhler


Carlos Buhler
Mountaineer

© Crista-Lee Mitchell

Carlos Buhler’s climbing resume is a long, long list of some of the world’s most challenging mountains: Everest, Ama Dablam, Cho Oyu. He is the man Climbing Magazine called “the most accomplished North American climber in the Himalaya,” but the first mountain he lists on his resume is none other than Pyramid Peak in Wyoming, Buhler’s first mountain ascent. He climbed to the summit at age 15 while a student on a Wind River Wilderness course with NOLS in 1970.

Buhler still remembers the NOLS course that would ultimately change his life. “That was a wonderful experience for me to reach the top of something,” he says. “I remember that rocky scree-field going up to the top; it was beautiful and really made an impression on me.” Buhler also remembers the first time he tried to lead a climb on that course and placed a piece of protection upside down in the rock. That, he says, was the beginning of a long career learning and climbing.

From Alaska to Tadzhikistan, Buhler has gone on to climb not only the hardest mountains, but also the hardest routes on the hardest mountains, oftentimes on light-weight, high-altitude expeditions with just a few climbers. A New York Times article once called him a “super-alpinist,” and in his 30-year mountaineering career he has no doubt earned the title. His first ascent of the Tibet Kangshung East Face of Everest is still unrepeated and remains one of the most technically demanding routes on the mountain. In 1988, he joined an ultra-light team to make the first American ascent of Kangchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world, via the North Wall. On Changabang in 1998, along with a team of Russians, he established one of the most difficult routes ever done at that altitude. Imagine all of this in a high-stakes field of expeditioning where, according to Buhler, only 10-15 percent of difficult ascents in Asia succeed and about one out of every 30 climbers dies each year trying.

At his home in Bozeman, Montana, Buhler prefers to talk about the philosophical side of climbing rather than the fame he’s reached in the mountaineering world. Climbing, he says modestly, is just a way for him to do all the things he’s always been searching for. Today he combines a climbing career with a consulting business, Buhler Alpine Professionals, which sends him out speaking to groups about how the lessons of climbing can be brought home to everyday life.

Philosophical by nature, it’s obvious that Buhler hasn’t stopped learning since that first experience on a mountain with NOLS. “When I take risks in climbing,” he once wrote, “I can carry some things back into my life as a non-climber; a new set of problem-solving techniques; an enhanced appreciation for another culture; an insight into the strengths of a friend; or a shift, however slight, in the way I look at my own resources and ability to improve the world. The higher the risk, the more I want to come away having learned something.”

Carlos
Buhler

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