Bold alpinist, accomplished 5.13+ trad climber, calculated soloist, expert ski mountaineer, big wall sender, graceful mixed climber… Brette Harrington owes her lengthy title to her versatility in the mountains.
In 2013, at the age of 23, Brette gained international climbing fame when she free soloed 2,500-ft Chiaro di Luna (5.11a) in Patagonia. The recipient of the American Alpine Club’s prestigious Robert Hicks Bates Award, which honors young climbers who show “outstanding promise for future accomplishment”, Brette constantly works to improve in every area of climbing that will help her as an alpinist, from bouldering and high-grade rock climbing to ski mountaineering and ice climbing. Versatility fuels her creativity and vision, and it’s a vision that Brette says motivates her exceptional solo climbs. At 27, her first ascents span Alaska, Patagonia and the Canadian Rockies.
Raised by skiers in Lake Tahoe, Brette competed in slopestyle skiing in high school—a ski academy in New Hampshire—and college in British Columbia. But after suffering numerous concussions and breaking her neck at the age of 20, Brette quit competing and pursued an interest in rock climbing. In Squamish, she met a talented climber named Marc-André Leclerc, who introduced her to ice and alpine climbing. From 2014-2016, the couple traveled the world big-wall climbing. They put up first ascents in British Columbia, Alberta and on Baffin Island. By 2017, Brette was focused on winter alpine climbing, reveling in the constant decision making, the flow of mind and body and the required improvisation and creativity. It seemed a culmination of all the skills she’d honed so far. But in 2018, Brette lost her life and climbing partner when Leclerc never returned from the Mendenhall Towers near Juneau, Alaska.
The following year, Brette dropped everything and went to the mountains. She found solace and connection among big mountains, and grieved by focusing all her attention on the lines she wanted to climb. She opened routes on the Taku Towers on the Juneau Ice Field and made the first ascent of Life Compass (IV 5.10a M4+) in Alberta. In 2019, she climbed the biggest, hardest alpine route of her career: a first ascent of the East Face of Alberta’s Mt. Fay that she and her partners named “Sound of Silence”. Brette climbed difficult pitch after difficult pitch and moved quicker than she ever had through difficult, loose mixed terrain. The same year, Harrington went on to climb a line she and Leclerc had hoped to climb together—a gently arcing crack on the East Pillar of Torre Egger, Patagonia. She named the 12c, 13-pitch climb “MA’s Visión” and will return to complete the line to the summit. In between, she completed her third 5.12 first ascent on the Chinese Puzzle Wall, a 500m big wall in British Columbia.
While Brette is excited about expedition climbing, especially in Peru and Pakistan, she is finding most everything she needs in the Canadian Rockies. The loose limestone sharpens her weaknesses, the relief offers prominence at a Himalayan scale without the high altitude, and the seemingly endless range offers a lifetime of technical climbs. As Brette says, the more technical, the better.
- Sound of Silence (M8, WI5, 1100m) Mt. Fay, Alberta — First Ascent, with Ines Papert and Luka Lindic. 2019
- MA’s Vision (12c), Torre Egger, Patagonia— First ascent, with Quentin Roberts. 2019
- Shaa Teixi’ (5.11, 1100m) Devils Paw, Alaska — First Ascent, with Gabe Hayden. 2018
- Life Compass (M5+, 10b, 900m) Mount Blane, Alberta — First Ascent, with Rose Pearson. 2018
- North Face of Ledge Mountain (M7+ 500m) Squamish, British Columbia— First Winter Ascent, with Marc-André Leclerc. 2018
- Northwest Turret (13a, A2, 1000m) Great Sail Peak, Baffin Island — First Ascent, with Marc-André Leclerc and Josh Lavigne. 2016
- Chiaro Di Luna (11a, 750m) Saint Exupéry, Patagonia — First free solo. 2015
- Auroraphobia (13+, 360m(Waiprous River Valley, Alberta, Canada — First Ascent with Marc-André Leclerc. 2017
- Grand Illusion (13b/c), Sugarloaf, California — Second female ascent. 2015