For many people, getting down Sun Valley's Bald Mountain is hard enough. Whether it's on skis, a snowboard or a mountain bike, 3,260 feet is a long way down. For a hardy few, though, gravity is cheating; they prefer to climb.
Roger Mankus takes that logic to an extreme. On May 1, he tallied his 100th alpine-touring climb up Baldy.
"I've done a lot of crazy stuff throughout my years," Mankus said, shortly after hitting the century mark.
Often setting out before dawn, Mankus weathered brutal conditions as he wore Sisyphus' shoes—or boots in this case—all winter. He ascended 326,000 vertical feet between December and May, sometimes climbing Baldy as many as three times in a single day. On average, Mankus could reach the summit in an hour and 30 minutes. His record of 1 hour 7 minutes earned him third place in March's Atlas Snowshoe/Randonee Challenge.
Liza Wilson, Mankus' co-worker at The Elephant's Perch in Ketchum, calls it the "revolving workout." For Mankus, climbing is simply a way to stay in shape and keep his mind clear.
"I get into a Zen-like state," he says of his silent mornings. He never brings an iPod, or any other "distractions," as he calls them. "It's just one foot in front of the other, like a walking meditation."
Granted, when the temperatures dipped below zero degrees and the wind blew so hard he wasn't sure when he had reached the summit, Mankus had his brief moments of self-doubt.
"Sometimes I would think, 'Why am doing this?' But when that sun comes up and you get to see that alpenglow, you realize, this is why I do it."
To cut down on climbing weight, Mankus uses only the lightest alpine-touring gear. With his current set-up, he shed half a pound of gear from what he had been using in years past. All told, his skis (Atomic MX20), boots (Scarpa F1), climbing skins (Black Diamond Glidelite Nylon) and bindings (Dynafit Tourlight) weigh 12 pounds, 10 ounces.
The road to 100-climbs was not always smooth. For his wife, Charil Reis, "It was a long winter." After early morning climbing, there were times when Mankus' exhaustion became a hurdle for the couple.
"There were plenty of days when he was way too tired to be social or go out and do regular things. He was just so trashed from skinning," Reis says. "Now that it's over, I'm pretty relieved. It's nice to wake up and have my husband back."
Despite the lonely winter mornings, Reis appreciates what Mankus set out to do. "He's an enigma sometimes, but I admire his tenacity ... I'm proud of him," she said. Reis hopes that Mankus' feat will inspire others to follow suit and realize their own eccentric dreams.
Mankus, a Chicago native, has been ski touring since he first moved to the Wood River Valley 10 years ago. This past February, his enthusiasm for the sport reached new heights when he competed in Ski Sunlight, a 24-hour hike/randonee race at Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs, Colo. That day, Mankus climbed 24,880 feet in 16 laps and finished in 10th place. Temperatures dipped well below zero that night and Mankus' memory is one of rote repetition:
"I went up and down, just like a yo-yo."
Once back in Ketchum, there was no rest for a weary Mankus. On those frigid winter mornings, when most of us relished an extra hour in bed, he was out there, just climbing. "Sometimes it was hard to move out, but once I get going, I know it will be worth it in the end."
After four winters of skinning up Baldy, Mankus' statistics are staggering: 279 climbs for 909,540 vertical feet since 2002. With just 27 more ascents, Mankus could hit the 1 million mark.
"I'll do that next year," he said.