Some people drive to the local corner store to purchase a lottery ticket, hoping they bought a winner. For me, it’s a simple drive as well, but the lottery ticket comes in a different form. Each day I head into the mountains, I carry the same hopes and dreams that I’ll strike it rich. The jackpot may not fill my bank account, but it sure will make me wealthy. Thankfully, in the game of ice climbing, the odds of success are much better than in the lottery.

Tanner Callender climbing the FA first pitch.

Tanner Callender climbing the FA first pitch.


I hate to say that gambling is even a part of climbing, but the fact is we do gamble in the mountains at times. My decisions are based on objective facts and my years of climbing experience, and sometimes nature throws me a wild card and I have to make a tough call.

Aaron Mulkey sizing the pillar up

Aaron Mulkey sizing the pillar up

Whether I’m climbing or kayaking, I have to weigh the odds. In my younger years, the equations were calculated much differently than they are today. Then, 50/50 odds seemed like an easy choice whether I was climbing or asking a girl out on a date. Without a doubt, those odds paid off more often in the mountains.

Aaron Mulkey feeling the stability of the pillar and working through the odds in his head

Aaron Mulkey feeling the stability of the pillar and working through the odds in his head

Back in December, Tanner Callender and I stumbled upon this impressive chunk of ice. After about an hour of sizing it up, I made the difficult decision to walk away. I knew it was climbable, but the attachment point was super thin and the base was…well…not thick, as you can see. The pillar was so thin in spots that needles of light struck through it.  I should also mention that it was 5 degrees that day and climbing something like that pillar in those temps would be like showing up to a gunfight with a knife. The outcome is almost certain.


These things always look better from a far…

Walking away is never easy, but gambling with poor odds is a sure win for the grave.


Stay tuned for the return…..


  • Al says:

    I like your thought process on this one!

  • Steve says:

    Great thoughts and sometimes the best climbers walk away and that’s what makes them the best and I’m learning that lesson this year with a few climbs I had to say no to just because of the way I felt. Great Blog and I enjoy following your posts on Instagram as Omega686 and I hope to hit some of these lines one day. You are right about climbing being like winning the lottery because no amount of money can replace these experiences that very few ever get to have. Take Care and Climb On!!!!