On December 2, 2011, the day she turned 40, Jen Olson woke up to a bitterly cold, but spectacularly beautiful, dawn. Olson and her partner, an American climber named Rob Smith, had spent the night huddled on a ledge just below the summit of Cerro Fitzroy, a huge granite incisor that’s the largest of Patagonia’s extraordinary spires. As the towers below them pinkened in the early light, Olson started leading the final headwall of ice and stone, blessed with very rare clear skies. By 8 a.m., the pair was on top.
It was a fantastic birthday present—a long, hard and complex route up one of the great mountains of the world—and was yet another link in a lengthy chain of impressive ascents by Olson. A mountain guide based in Canmore, Olson has been shining for years now, consistently climbing hard rock and ice, but excelling on longer alpine routes, racking up an enviable list of first ascents and significant repeats at home and abroad.
Olson says that a couple of expedition grants a few years ago made all the difference in the arc of her adventures. After receiving the prestigious Mugs Stump Award in 2006, she and Vancouver climber Katherine Fraser successfully tackled an unclimbed face in the Kichatna Spires in Alaska.
The following year, thanks to the John Lauchlan Award (funded in part by this magazine), Olson and fellow guide Lilla Molnar completed a first ascent of a 4,800-metre spire in the Karakorum Himal. Those two trips fuelled a confidence that has led her up increasingly bold objectives, including a huge new winter route in the Khumbu Himal in 2009.
And Olson has a long list of climbs ahead. She says that in 2012, she plans to complete a very hard pet project in the Bugaboos, to go back to Pakistan, and perhaps to attempt a new route on Mount Waddington. Despite turning 40, it’s obvious that Olson isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Geoff Powder, Explore Magazine (Top Adventurers Feature, The Elite, from the Spring 2012 issue)