The Transplant: Adam O’Keefe on The Chuting Gallery

Midvale, Utah-based stock-market investor Adam O’Keefe has been living in Salt Lake County area for a decade with ample time to explore even the Wasatch’s most hidden lines. A transplant from the Midwest by way of Jackson Hole, Wyo., O’Keefe says he’s always been drawn to technical lines, so when he found out about Andrew McLean’s The Chuting Gallery within a few years of moving to Utah, he saw an opportunity to get even more acquainted with his new home. Last winter, after eight years, O’Keefe completed all 90 lines with the help and company of a few dedicated friends. —Louise Lintilhac

Adam O’Keefe ascends Heart of Darkness. [Photo] Jim Harris

First Impressions

When I moved to Utah 10 years ago, I started skiing a number of the lines in the book without having heard of it. I actually can’t remember specifically how I learned about The Chuting Gallery, but I assume someone mentioned it and then I went to check it out, but I don’t usually look at guidebooks. When I did decide to do the Chuting Gallery project at some point, I thought, “Well, I’ve skied quite a few of these. Why not ski the whole thing?”

Favorite Route

I’ve never really been able to pick a favorite line from the book, but Hellgate Couloir left an impression. It’s a relatively short line with a massive cliff in the middle. When my partner and I got down below the rappel the first time I skied it, our ropes got stuck. So we skied out, and I returned two days later to get the ropes. Once I skied it solo, it crossed my mind that I could probably do the whole book. Before that, I wouldn’t have imagined doing a line like that solo, and afterward, I thought that, if I’m confident—or overconfident—enough to do that, then I have a chance, so why not try?

Steep Legacy

Several guidebooks for the Wasatch have been published, but no one has written a more relevant book for steep Wasatch skiing than McLean. His tone makes the point that you can look at these things in one of two ways: either you think it’s too dangerous or you make light of the danger and hope that everyone who’s dedicated enough to try the lines lives. More than once I’ve heard people suggest funny snippets from the CG as names for new descents, such as “Running with Scissors.”

Future Lines

One of the troubles in the world is global climate change. Many of these lines are below 8,000 feet, and in the last number of years, a lot of those lines don’t get that much snow at that elevation anymore. So a number of lines that, when I first moved here, were in for a number of months every year, are only in for a very short window of time now; days and weeks rather than months. So the trend appears to be that some of the book is literally melting away.

Chuting Lessons

I’ve had a lifelong fear of heights, so some of the lines in this project were hard for that reason. But I think that anything is possible if you set your mind to the task. One day I was out skiing with Andrew, and I asked him, “I don’t know if other people feel this way, but as much as I ski steep stuff, it seems to me that my fear level never goes down.” He said, “Well, that’s the appropriate response. I’d be worried if you weren’t scared.”

I think that’s interesting because you never see anyone talk about that in the movies or in any discussions about the big mountains. People think that it’s nothing when we drop into big lines, but it certainly wasn’t that way for me. Every line elicited a certain amount of fear, and I had to overcome that.

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