Weekend Warm-Up: The Road from Karakol

“Real adventure is not polished. It’s not the result of some marketing budget. There is no hashtag for it. It burns brightest on the map’s edges. It exists in all of us. It exists at the intersection of imagination and the ridiculous. You have to have faith. It will find you there. And when it does, remember there’s just one question. In this life, when the road comes to an end: Will you keep pedalling?”

Kyle Dempster (1983-2016)

American Kyle Dempster was a two-time winner of climbing’s Piolet d’Or and regarded as one of the finest alpinists of his generation. He disappeared together with Scott Adamson on 6,969m Ogre II in the Karakorum in 2016.

The pair hoped to be just the second team to climb Ogre II, and the first by its difficult North Face. It was their second attempt. Their first almost ended in tragedy the year before, when Adamson broke his leg after falling 30m near the summit.

Memorial for Dempster and Adamson, Choktoi Glacier, Pakistan. Photo: Andrew Burr

Dempster first rose to prominence in 2010 on an expedition to the Tien Shan Mountains in China, where he completed three first ascents, including the 2,600m North Face of Xuelian West with Jed Brown and Bruce Normand, a climb that won a Piolet d’Or. A year later, he returned to China and completed two more major new routes with Normand, cementing his reputation as one of America’s most successful young alpinists.

True to his quirky nature, Dempster used the Piolet d’Or golden ice axe to flip sausages at the Great White Icicle barbecue, an infamous annual tradition he co-founded that takes place two pitches up a local ice climb on Super Bowl Sunday.

In 2012, Dempster climbed a new route on 6,370m Ogre I with Hayden Kennedy, only its third ascent ever, and put up a new route up the then-unclimbed east face of K7 (6,934m) with Kennedy and Urban Novak.

Renowned for pioneering difficult and dangerous routes up remote, high-altitude walls, Dempster was also well-regarded for his sense of humour and love of his family and friends. While he loved adventures with friends, many of his expeditions were done alone, including kite-skiing hundreds of miles across Baffin Island and a 21-day solo ascent of the west face of Tahu Rutum in Pakistan.


Kyle Dempster in action. Photo: Toby MacPhee

In 2018, Dempster’s family, friends and sponsors created The Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award to honour his legacy and recognize American solo adventurers embarking on a journey that embodies Kyle’s passionate spirit and love of exploration, with an emphasis on storytelling and leave-no-trace ethics.

This week’s film features Dempster on a two-month solo biking and climbing trip in Kygryzstan, a place he described as “the Switzerland of Central Asia.” He planned on using old Soviet roads (which turned out no longer to exist) while climbing as many of the region’s peaks as possible. He’d purchased his bike just weeks before and had never bike toured. It is a glimpse of his adventurous spirit, his wacky sense of humour, his relentless determination and his unbridled passion for life.

The inspirational film contrasts an outwardly frivolous and zany persona with an inwardly analytical, focused and philosophical mind.