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Bruce Miller endures a cold pitch on Chiaro di Luna (5.11a, 20 pitches) on Aguja Saint-Exupéry in February 2018. Armed with Miller’s optimism, he and the author summited this day in the face of bitter cold and wind. (Chris Weidner, Courtesy photo)
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The Patagonian wind strengthened throughout the day. Gusts threw me off balance as I climbed, shaking my confidence. The sky was a gray cloak blotting out the sun, with darker, UFO-shaped clouds portending the incoming storm.

Bruce Miller and I were more than halfway up Aguja Saint-Exupéry, a 2,500-foot tall granite spire in Argentina in 2018. Our toes were wooden, our fingers numb and we were rag dolls in that damned, infamous wind. With each blast my discomfort morphed into fear — the kind of primal, nauseating dread designed to keep us alive.

Miller descends Longs Peak after another day working on Gambler’s Fallacy in August 2019. Mount Lady Washington dominates the background. (Chris Weidner, Courtesy photo)

“What do you think about the weather?” I yelled to Miller over the wind.

He looked around slowly, studying the horizon as we shivered in all our clothes.

“Seems fine to me,” he said calmly.

Dammit… I thought.

“Are you concerned?” he asked.

Hell yes I’m concerned! My mind screamed. Terrified actually! We could die up here if it gets any worse!

“Not too much,” I lied, betraying every cell in my body.

Having climbed with Miller since 2003, I had learned to trust his instincts more than my own, especially when I’m scared. He has a preternatural comfort in the mountains, and a fervent, almost unreasonable optimism. I don’t understand it, but I’ve bet my life on it more than once.

Coupled with a comprehensive skill set acquired through four decades of climbing, and his understated affect, it’s clear why his partners refer to Miller as their “secret weapon” in the mountains.

Indeed, he is often the stronger, less visible climber in a partnership. He led us to the summit of Saint-Exupéry and safely back down throughout the following day. The dozen other climbers attempting the peak had all bailed.

Miller, who has lived in Boulder since 1981, has shoulder-length red hair with a sprinkle of gray, angular features and kind eyes. The slight hunch in his back suggests a lifetime of hard work (he’s a carpenter) and harder climbing. He has an easy way about him, which surprised me at first. I had assumed his world-class alpine climbing résumé had been earned through the kind of brash aggression more typical of elite alpinists.

I would quickly learn there’s not an arrogant bone in his body. Rather, it’s the comfort, the confidence, the outrageous optimism that’s the secret to Miller’s success. And it manifests in all climbing situations, not just the dicey ones.

Miller redpoints the last pitch (5.12d) of Gambler’s Fallacy (5.13b, 9 pitches) during his successful free ascent. He and the author spent the last four summers establishing this new route on Longs Peak. (Chris Weidner, Courtesy photo)

From Aug. 22-23, a four-year dose of his own secret weapon finally paid off with his ascent of Gambler’s Fallacy (5.13b, 9 pitches) on the Diamond of Longs Peak.

It’s a new route he and I worked on together for the past four summers, as we logged more than 50 days on the mountain. We took turns on our free attempts — I climbed it Aug. 9 with Miller belaying, and he climbed it during the next spell of stable weather.

“At the end of last summer I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” he said. “But then you go back down, you revisit some of the pitches, you grab some of the holds, and you’re like, ‘Well, maybe…’”

With multiple 5.12 and 5.13 pitches it was, by far, Miller’s most difficult rock climb. What’s more, 5.13b is as hard as he has climbed anywhere. And to do that at nearly 14,000 feet on the Diamond — with its constant cold, thin air, grueling approach and its frequent, violent thunderstorms — is an effort nothing short of heroic.

It’s no wonder Diamond climbers rarely attempt their max climbing grade up there. But somehow, year after year, he kept believing it might just be possible. As usual, his instinct was right on.

Oh yeah — Miller turned 57 years old 8 days after his ascent.

“There’s the relief of it being done, accomplishing your goal and all that,” he said. “But there was that feeling hiking out… I’m so friggin’ lucky to have a super supportive wife, and I’ve got all these great partners and friends who’ve been supportive over the years. The overwhelming feeling when topping out was a feeling of gratitude.”

Contact Chris Weidner at cweidner8@gmail.com. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8

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