My dream has always been to photograph and connect with the wildlands on our earth. I was born in the most arid desert in the world, the Atacama Desert, located in Chile's second to fourth regions, where I grew up exploring the volcanoes and salt flats of the Atacama Region. I traded the desert for the mountains when I moved to Colorado in 2012. These days I’m very lucky to split my time between Chile and the USA, where I have been photographing and climbing in incredible places.
I have been living in Colorado for the past 11 years and graduated in fine arts and photography from the University of Colorado Denver. I have dedicated these past years to trail running around the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the San Juans, as well as working as a freelance action and climbing photographer, sharing adventures and photographing professional athletes in epic places.
I was climbing in Vedauwoo, Wyoming with my wife Karen Williams a few years ago when I met Erik Weihenmayer. At the time I didn’t know anything about Erik, but it seemed spectacular to me how stoked he was about climbing, and the way he experienced the world. Erik is a North American athlete, adventurer, climber, and motivational speaker. He is also completely blind but that didn’t stop him from becoming the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001. Erik is also an activist, and he has created a nonprofit organization, No Barriers, which builds a world that is inclusive for all and where barriers don’t stand in the way of possibilities.
I remember a specific moment the first time Karen and I climbed with Erik. Karen was getting ready to climb as I was looking for my Grigri, when Erik said, “I can actually belay Karen,” while he was setting up his old ATC devices on his harness. Karen looked at me and I winked at her as a sign to just trust him and climb, while he belayed her and I backed him up. In my mind, I thought: Now, I’m about to watch a blind stranger belay my wife on the very first day we meet. That doesn’t happen every day, right? But anyway, Karen crushed the climb and everything went fine, we had a blast climbing off-width all day long. I really believe that was the moment we become friends. We all trust in each other and for me, that’s a big part of a good friendship.
Watching Erik trust every single step to reach a summit is something I still learn from. The way that he moves on the rocks is so natural. Erik is constantly scanning and memorizing every inch of the rock with his hands and feet while looking for the next hold, which requires a lot of power and energy. I’ve seen a lot of people with dropped jaws watching Erik climb in climbing gyms or at the crags.
Since that trip to Vedauwoo, Erik and I have climbed in many places where we got to know each other better and better with every trip. I remember when we climbed The Yellow Spur (5.9+) which is one of the most classic multi-pitch climbing routes in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. At this location, we were climbing with Bill Wright, who would lead all the pitches while Erik and I followed him. Erik mentioned that Bill climbs a lot in Eldorado Canyon and he would be a great leader for this route since he knows right and left every single move on this climb. What he didn’t mention was that Bill holds one of the fastest times known on the route and he doesn’t waste a second. Since I was the youngest one on the team, I had to keep up with their pace. For me, it felt like a test. Not only did I have to be Erik’s eyes through every single pitch, but I also had to climb quickly and efficiently so I could guide Erik while he was catching up with me fast. This was a great taste of what you can do in Eldo playground when you have great partners.
Erik and I decided to do another trip to Wyoming but this time our destination was Devil’s Tower. We met at the Devil’s Tower Lodge. This time Erik showed up with his friend Charley Mace, a great climber and one of America's most successful Himalayan mountaineers with ascents of five 8000m peaks. This was an incredible trip. We climbed amazing classic routes, we shared gourmet food (prepared by Karen), and we joked around camp with a beer in hand after long days of climbing. I got to lead every pitch on this trip while Charley helped Erik navigate the rock. I paid extra attention to their dynamics. Erik and Charley have climbed big mountains together for years and it was amazing to see their connection, how they sense each other, and understand each other on and off the wall. This was eye-opening for me. I wanted to know how to be a better partner for Erik on his next adventures.
A couple of days later we went to climb “El Matador” (5.10d), one of the most classic routes on Devil’s Tower. After seeing him battling his way up but never giving up, I was convinced that we could climb something bigger and that he would be a great partner. Later, when we got to camp, I told him that we should go climb in Chile. “We should climb in Patagonia. We have climbed a lot in the United States, let’s go climb Torres del Paine.” And maybe we could start a tradition of climbing together in new places for both of us.
After that, we kept climbing around Golden, Colorado. For some reason, I feel I climb the best with Erik because he is not seeing me. He is not yelling at me what to do when I’m struggling. Instead, he is listening to my breathing and just feeling the rope in case I take a fall. For me, there is something special about climbing and spending time with Erik. I think it is the freedom of not feeling judged for the way I look being a foreigner in the US or for the way I climb. Erik doesn’t need to know the color of my skin or tell me what to do for every single move while we climb together. He just trusts the way I am. He knows that even if I’m having a hard time on a climb, we will reach the top and have a good story to talk about later.
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Words by | Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht
Photos | Pancho Herrera - Gonzalo Robert - Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht
Guiding Services | Senoret Brothers Expeditions
Dedicated and generous, Hayden has undergone hardship to keep doing the sport that guides his life. Alongside sending big walls, he’s a bedrock in his local climbing community, coaching the new generation and maintaining local sport routes.
Read more about Athlete Hayden Jamieson here