As we celebrate the Kent Denver Centennial, we also aim to celebrate the achievements of alumni from across the school’s generations, including graduates of the two founding schools—the Kent School for Girls and the all-boys Denver Country Day (DCD)—that later merged to become the Kent Denver School we know today.
On a campus full of natural beauty, one of the most striking features at Kent Denver is the expansive view of the Rocky Mountains. On a clear day looking west from the Schaden Dining Hall patio, you can see the majestic Front Range stretched out across the horizon.
It’s little wonder then that so many Kent Denver alumni end up scaling mountains—in Colorado and around the world—as a hobby or even as a career, including those profiled here: DCD founder Andy Black and his wife and Kent alumna Kay Eppich Black ’44, DCD alum Art Muir ’64, Chase Lochmiller ’04 and Sydney Paez Duncan ’07.
In any article about alumni mountaineers, we must celebrate the memory of Tom Taplin '71. Tom was a filmmaker who died in 2015 in an avalanche at the Everest base camp. Tom, a passionate lifelong outdoorsman and climber, was there to produce a documentary about life in the base camp tent city. The CNN feature Bringing Tom Home contains more details about Tom's extraordinary life.
Andy Black and Kay Eppich Black '45: Trekking Into the Unknown
Alumni fondly remember Denver Country Day founder Andy Black and his wife and Kent alumna Kay Eppich Black '45 for the intrepid spirit they brought to school excursions.
We've collected stories from DCD alumni about Andy-led annual float trips down the Highline Canal for graduating seniors, a 50-mile hike he took with students to raise funds for the school, and ski team trips to the Blacks' house at the foot of Ajax Mountain. Kay hosted or supported many of these excursions and spent time on bold adventures of her own, including earning her pilot's license and racing airplanes in national and international women-only races.
It's no surprise then that Kay and Andy sought unusual experiences when they traveled, the most adventurous of which was a trek to Everest base camp in 1963. The pair, along with a group of friends, followed behind the professional climbers associated with the American Everest Expedition. While the pros planned to become the first Americans to reach the summit (and ultimately succeeded in their goal that summer), Andy and Kay were among the earliest American tourists to Nepal.
Although the Blacks have both since passed away (Andy in 2010 and Kay in 2020), one of their hiking companions, Dr. Winona G. Campbell, wrote about their group's trekking adventure in her 2006 travel memoir Upside Downside. The photo above is from that book and depicts the hiking group; Andy is seated front left and Kay is seated back right. Dr. Campbell noted that the Blacks "had always been a sought-after couple for mountaineering holidays: Andy, the steady, unruffled climber who could lead as well as follow, and Kay, the good sport, along for the sheer fun of being with Andy and other friends in the mountains."
The book details how little the group knew about what to expect for their trek through Nepal. At the time of the trip, DCD was getting ready to move from its original building on Dartmouth & University to its new site (Kent Denver's current home) at 4000 E. Quincy Avenue, leaving Andy with no time to train. Kay's climbing uniform included a colorful dress and oversized cowboy hat!
In spite of their limited preparations, over the course of about six weeks, Andy, Kay and their friends made their way through the Himalayas, reaching Everest base camp in mid-April. There, Kay caught a serious respiratory infection, but with no safe way out of the mountains other than by foot, she was carried down by two Sherpa porters. Pictured left in a photo by Winona Campbell, Kay rode piggy-back into Namche Bazaar, a gateway town in the High Himalayas. Once she reached lower altitudes, Kay recovered and gifted her cowboy hat to one of the porters who helped her safely descend.
The Blacks remained in touch with their hiking friends and porters through the years, and even invited a member of the American Expedition to speak at DCD in 1964, the first in a long line of climbers who have come to the Kent Denver campus to inspire future generations of mountaineers.
Next Up: Art Muir '64
Art Muir '64: Naming and Reaching a Big Goal
Denver Country Day (DCD) alumnus Art Muir ’64 made headlines in the summer of 2021 for becoming—at age 75—the oldest American to summit Everest. During appearances on the Today show and in other media outlets, Art frequently mentioned his inspiration for this feat dated back to his high school days at DCD.
In 1963, at the same time Andy and Kay Black were trekking to Everest Base Camp, the first team of Americans reached the summit of Everest. One of the members of that group was a climber named Barry Bishop, who visited Denver a year after completing his legendary climb and, at Andy Black’s invitation, gave remarks at a DCD assembly during Art’s senior year.
Art recalls, “The idea that this guy who had climbed Mount Everest came to our school to talk to us stuck with me my whole life.”
However, his extreme mountaineering career didn’t begin until his 60s, when Art decided to make his lifelong dream of climbing Everest into a reality.
Although he’d previously trekked around Everest and summited other mountains, Art didn’t make his first Everest summit attempt until 2019. “I knew if I didn’t push the Everest window, I was going to be too old to even try.”
Unfortunately, his first climb didn’t go as planned, and he had to stop well short of the summit. “I made two terrible mistakes,” he recalls. “I fell in a crevasse, and then I fell off a ladder and twisted my ankle. I just wasn’t careful.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, very few climbers were allowed in Everest in 2020, but by 2021, Art was back in Nepal and ready for a second attempt.
“This time, my approach was really different,” he says. “Having been there and seen the mountain, knowing how big and dangerous it was, I had a chance to get my head around it. My mantra was ‘No mistakes.’ Every single time I put a foot down from when I got off the plane to when I made it back down, I tried to put my left foot where I wanted it, my right foot where I wanted it. No slips, no falls, no mistakes.”
On his May 2021 climb, Art reached the summit and successfully made it back down the mountain, where the world celebrated his climbing achievement, and a new grandson was waiting to meet his mountaineering grandpa—baby Everest, born during Art’s climb!
Art has since embarked on an extensive speaking tour, not just on national news programs but in schools and community groups throughout the Chicago area where he lives. He always highlights key pieces of advice for anyone looking to achieve a big goal.
First, Art underscores the importance of putting words to that big goal, whatever it might be: “I didn’t do a lot of climbing as a young person. I always thought about big mountains, but I hadn’t—even to myself—named that dream. When I talk to young people now, I talk about how important it is to name a big goal. It’s not important that you achieve it, but you need to have big goals and move yourself toward it.”
He also talks about physical fitness as lifelong work. He encourages everyone, but especially older people, to “move some weight around, use your body—pushing, pulling, lifting, tugging. That’s the stuff we were meant to do,” whether climbing mountains or just aiming for better fitness.
As for mental fitness, Art credits his long law career for helping him achieve his climbing goals: “The ability to focus on a tedious task for a really long time and being diligent during that time is a skillset. A lot of life is not that interesting, but you have to work your way through it anyway.”
Support from a team—whether trained professionals or family cheerleaders—is also key for Art. “I got so much support from the health care system, from trainers, from my Sherpas, from my family. I’m like an old-time circus performer where the strong man is on the bottom, and I’m the [person] on top standing on the shoulders of all the other people who helped me.”
More specific to a Kent Denver audience, Art also reflected on how his DCD days helped him nearly 60 decades after graduation: “One of the great things about Denver Country Day was that you could do anything you wanted to do. One of the great legacies of the school is that I always felt stretched; I always felt pushed. Being part of a small class, a small group, meant there were no barriers. I just got used to doing things, whether it was schoolwork or athletics, and figuring it out as I went along.”
Check out the Athletics YouTube channel to watch our video interview with Art Muir!
Next Up: Chase Lochmiller '04
Chase Lochmiller '04: Thinking Like a Mountaineer
Like Art Muir ‘64, Chase Lochmiller '04 had his interest in mountaineering sparked by a Kent Denver visiting speaker: Eric Weihenmayer, who became the first blind man to complete the Seven Summits, reaching the peak of the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents.
“I already loved spending time in the mountains, and that was the first time I had heard of this concept of climbing the Seven Summits,” Chase recalls. “I thought it was a really, really awesome, inspirational goal and objective to have.”
However, outside of Middle School class trips to the mountains, Chase focused his time and energy in high school and college on soccer and his studies. He went to MIT for his undergraduate degree, where he also played on the soccer team, earned a double major in math and physics, and somehow still managed to graduate a semester early.
Chase decided to use the extra time to tackle two major summits, recruiting his sister Margaux Lochmiller Williamson ’03 to join him. In the span of a few months, the siblings scaled Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, and Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
“These two big Expedition-type trips gave me a taste for larger scale climbing,” Chase says, and he took that interest into his post-college life in a big way.
In between stints in New York as a quantitative researcher in the finance industry and in California where he earned a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford and joined cryptocurrency hedge fund Polychain Capital as a partner, Chase dedicated his personal time to extreme mountaineering.
Whenever he could take advantage of breaks in his schedule, Chase headed to the mountains, completing the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Orizaba in Mexico, Mount Rainier in Washington, Cotopaxi in Ecuador and Aiguille Verte in the French Alps. He also achieved another two of the Seven Summits: Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Mount Elbrus in the Ural Mountains on the border of Russia and Georgia.
“You're in the middle of these breathtaking landscapes,” he says about his many adventures, “and it’s a beautiful way to join nature and connect with nature in a way that stimulates you both mentally and physically. Plus for me, one of the coolest parts of an expedition is meeting friends along the way.
By 2014, Chase was ready to tackle Everest with one of the friends he’d met in Antarctica, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa. Unfortunately, shortly after Chase arrived at base camp, an avalanche hit the Khumbu Icefall and a giant serac (a massive block of glacial ice) fell, killing 15 Sherpas. Chase’s expedition, along with many others, was canceled.
Chase left Nepal with a new understanding of the risks of mountaineering on Everest, not just for visiting climbers, but for the Sherpas in particular. “There was no insurance or anything for the people bearing quite a bit of physical risk,” he explains, “and very little of the climbing fees paid to the government make their way to the trail system that supports the trekkers and climbers.” While he waited to depart base camp, Chase got to witness the beginnings of the social revolution that stemmed from the avalanche. “I felt like I was kind of near the center of it. It was a very interesting thing to experience.”
Chase supported The Juniper Fund, a Sherpa-focused nonprofit, and tried to make peace with his curtailed expedition.
“It was a very special trip, but it lingered with me that I didn't really get this chance to climb the mountain and I still aspired to do that,” Chase remembers. “It was this thing that really stuck with me. There were points where I thought maybe I'd never go back, but it was just something that I thought about all the time, and it consumed me.”
By 2017, the Everest dream was still haunting Chase, and with some encouragement from his wife, he decided to try again, successfully completing his fifth of the Seven Summits in 2018.
However, these adventures are about more than just checking off items on a bucket list. Mountaineering skills are a core part of how Chase approaches his life, whether he’s climbing or not. In his current professional venture, Crusoe Energy, which Chase founded with fellow Kent Denver alum Cully Cavness ’05, the mountaineering mindset is built into the company ethos.
“One of our company values is to think like a mountaineer,” he says. “Mountaineering involves an incredible amount of preparation. You want to have backup plans for anything that could go wrong, and you have to have a mastery of your own personal set of tools if you’re going to succeed.”
Next Up: Sydney Paez Duncan '07
Sydney Paez Duncan ‘07: Staying Open to New Adventures
The mountaineer mindset doesn’t just inform 2007 graduate Sydney Paez Duncan’s work; it is the bedrock of her career. As a professional guide, Sydney’s clients rely on her mountaineering skills—both technical and interpersonal—to get up and down the mountain safely.
However, while preparation and careful planning are critical to Sydney’s work, when it comes to climbing, she doesn’t think of herself as a particularly goal-oriented person: “I want to have an openness and willingness to try different things,” she says. “It’s served me so far. All my best decisions have been spur of the moment.”
In fact, those spur-of-the-moment decisions are what led her to guiding in the first place. After a family rafting trip down the Grand Canyon when she was in high school, Sydney recalled “feeling like myself and being extremely happy in a way that I hadn’t really felt as a young adult before.” She decided to use her Kent Denver CIE time (the three final weeks of a senior’s spring semester, where they pursue a project or internship tied to their own unique interests) to earn a rafting guide certification.
Once she earned that certificate, Sydney headed to Idaho Springs for the summer, where she lived in her car and led rafting trips on Clear Creek. “I did that for three years as my summer job in college. I loved that, and it opened up this whole outdoor world to me.”
After graduating from Colorado College, Sydney knew she wasn’t destined for a nine-to-five office job and held a string of waitressing jobs that allowed her to ski and travel. She also started tackling more adventurous climbs with her dad, Kevin V. Duncan ’81.
“I’m insanely fortunate in so many ways,” she acknowledges. “Having a dad who wants to spend the time and money to go and climb big mountains with me and would pay for me to do that—it’s not a cheap thing to do.”
On one of those father-daughter trips, Sydney met professional mountain guide Melissa Arnot Reid. “She was the first time I saw a strong female mountain guide who was highly professional in what she did and was exceptional at what she did,” Sydney says. “It wasn’t a hobby, it wasn’t a job until you get a real job, it was a career Melissa approached with thought and dedication. After seeing that, it clicked like a light bulb in my head. [Guiding is] something that is serious and worth spending your life learning how to do.”
Based on Arnot Reid’s advice, Sydney decided to pursue work as a ski patroller to get her foot in the door. In typical spur-of-the-moment fashion, she heard about openings at Palisades Tahoe and decided to head there immediately for the tryouts and interviews. The only problem? She was in the middle of her cousin’s bachelorette party in Northern California and didn’t have any of her ski gear with her.
Sydney called her Kent Denver friend and classmate Erica Rey Roche ‘07, who lived nearby, and asked if she could borrow a car and some gear. Using Erica’s husband’s skis, Sydney secured the ski patrol job.
Sydney has now had the chance to work extensively as a ski and climbing guide on Rainier, Mount Baker and Mount Shasta, with expeditions in the works for Denali and peaks in Ecuador, opportunities she describes as “awesome and slightly terrifying in a motivating way.”
“What initially drew me to the mountains was that you have to show up. You have to have respect for what you are doing and have respect for the mountains. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. It just matters if you took the time and effort to prepare and have the grit to get through it. I like that it’s a leveled playing field in that way,” she says.
Sydney also recognizes the barriers to entry, adding, “It’s expensive, it’s not as simple as ‘show up and climb.’ But once you get to the base of the mountain, if you can get through all the other stuff, it is just that simple.”
As she looks to the future, Sydney holds firmly to her desire for openness and flexibility. “I feel like the farther I get, the less I know. I don’t know if everyone feels that way in their career, but I am constantly humbled by this job, and I constantly make mistakes and think of ways I can do things better and help people more in their pursuits. I always want to be safer and stronger. As you get better, people give you more opportunities, which is great, but you also have to rise to the occasion.”
Follow up: Due to a knee injury in spring 2022, Sydney’s guiding plans for the year are on hold. She looks forward to being back out on the mountains soon!
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