In the Fall 2017 issue of HST, we wrote about Brette Harrington’s passion for climbing that began at Holderness on the Rumney Cliffs just west of campus. A recent award from the American Climbing Club demonstrates just how far that passion has taken her.
For Brette Harrington ’10, fame and recognition don’t seem to be important. It isn’t about the allure of a dangerous ascent or the desire to be first. It’s about the joy of solving puzzles. Like an engineer who takes apart a machine in order to understand how it works, Brette analyzes mountain peaks, examining each crack and pitch, striving to understand every contour until a climbable route develops in her mind. She is part artist, part analyst, part athlete.
“I’m inspired by new challenges,” says Brette. “Sometimes that means making free solo ascents; other times that means finding new routes that no one has ever climbed before. Not everyone has the flexibility or creative vision to climb something new. For me, that’s the most inspiring part.”
The climbing community acknowledged her skill and versatility in March when the American Alpine Club presented her with The Robert Hicks Bates Award which honors young climbers who show “outstanding promise for future accomplishment.”
Brette Harrington first began to climb while at Holderness. She came to New Hampshire, like many athletes, to ski, but it was on the climbing team that she discovered her life’s passion. She continued to climb in college, honing her skills in sport climbing, learning everything she could to become stronger and more proficient on the rock faces around her home in British Columbia. 2016 marked her first attempt at big wall climbing when she and boyfriend Marc-Andre Leclerc decided to tackle El Capitan in Yosemite. As she recalls in the Reel Rock film Brette, the two, along with a third climbing partner, had a lot to learn about climbing big walls. But fortified by their years of climbing experience and a healthy appetite for adventure, Brette and her partners succeeded, reaching the top of the wall after five days.
Over the past three years, Brette has continued to add other climbing techniques and methods to her repertoire—including both winter climbing and free soloing. Her biggest accomplishment to date is free soloing Saint-Exupéry’s Chiaro Di Luna in Patagonia in February of 2015, becoming the first person to free solo the spire and the first woman to ascend a major formation in the Fitz Roy Massif.
Not all her achievements, however, have been fueled by positive energy. In March of 2018 Brette’s climbing partner, and soul mate, Marc-Andre was killed in a climbing accident in Alaska. Since then, drawn to the mountains where the couple often climbed together and where she still feels closest to him, Brette has added several new routes to her first-ascents list. In the Canadian Rockies she and fellow climber Rose Pearson completed a new alpine route up the west face of Mount Blane in May of 2018. Last summer, when she returned to Alaska to search for the remains of Marc-Andre and his climbing partner Ryan Johnson, Brette climbed many new routes up the Mendenhall Towers. In September she and climber Gabe Hayden completed a first ascent of the rarely climbed Devil’s Paw in Alaska. Most recently she and climber Quentin Roberts completed a new route in Patagonia on the East Pillar of Torre Egger. It was a route Marc-Andre had seen while soloing Torre Egger in 2016.
“It is beyond words that Marc soloed this mountain, along with Cerro Torre, and Standhart,” Brette shared in an Instagram post. “As I found his rappel cordillete, I imagined him there with me, like he was part of the climb.”
The call of the mountains, the spirit of Marc-Andre, the creative vision that has blossomed inside Brette are all intertwined so intimately it is hard to tell where one leaves off and the next begins. Part joy, part sadness, the mountains continue to inspire Brette. The AAC award was a happy result but certainly not the goal.