To most students on campus, Patrik Callis is just another professor, but in the local climbing community he’s an looming figure. Callis began teaching chemistry at MSU in 1968. He moved to Bozeman shortly after earning a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and quickly made his mark on the Bozeman climbing community.
Callis completed first ascents of many classic climbing routes like Sparerib in Gallatin Canyon (5.9) and nabbed the first free ascent — climbing a route without the help of pulling on gear — of Theoretically in Hyalite Canyon (5.10c) within his first year in Bozeman,accompanied by partners Jim and Jerry Kanzler. In fact, Callis spotted Sparerib from his car as he was driving into Bozeman for the first time.
“I’ll remind you that in 1968 there were no nuts or cams. We only had pitons,” said Callis in a recent interview. As they ascended the rock, climbers hammered pitons (narrow steel wedges) into small fractures of the rock face to catch them should they fall. By today’s standards, many consider pitons far too exhausting to place; however, Callis and Kanzler had no other option. Over the course of about a week they attempted to climb Theoretically until they finally reached the top on their fourth night.
Callis was no stranger to the mountains when he arrived in Bozeman. Hailing from his home state of Oregon, he began his climbing career at the age of 15, climbing in the Cascade mountains and volcanic peaks of Washington and Oregon. After his sophomore year literature teacher introduced him to the sport in high school, Callis began his career through the local climbing club.
While at graduate school in Seattle, Callis met fellow climber Dan Davis, who became one of Callis’ most influential partners. Though Davis was four years younger, his time in the Seattle area gave him more opportunities to climb technically challenging peaks. Together they carved their names into the history of the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies—Mount Robson.
“He and I both were aware that the north face on Mount Robson had not yet been climbed, and a lot of people were interested in it,” said Callis. “It never occurred to me that we should go try it, but he was audacious enough to suggest it.”
The route entailed a 2,000 foot tall sheet of ice on a 55 degree slope, with occasional rock bands. Climbers had attempted the north face before, but none had succeeded. The equipment at the time made the steep and slick ice difficult and dangerous to ascend.
Nonetheless, in August of 1963, Callis and Davis set out to climb the peak. Between the conditions of the face, the ideal weather window and the skills of the climbing team, Callis and Davis made it safely to the nearly 13,000 foot summit of Mount Robson.
“I was kind of surprised that it worked out so well,” said Callis. “In many respects the first ascent of the north face of Mount Robson vaulted us into being recognized because it was such a sought after prize.”
Callis continues to climb to this day, even with new challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This past summer, he and local climber Terry Kennedy returned to Sparerib and reenacted the first ascent 52 years later. Using only nuts and hexes, (devices that were introduced shortly after the first ascent) the two climbers ascended the route in a single 230-foot push.
When he’s not climbing, Callis can be found teaching a physical chemistry class in the fall or advanced quantum chemistry in the spring. His research interests include fundamental physical chemistry of enzyme action and computational predictions of fluorescence from proteins, both of which he has collaboratively written papers on.