It’s August 2014 in Chamonix, France. The weather is nice and the air is fresh, so he decides to sleep on the balcony. He watches the countless paragliders fly off the snow-top mountains through the lit sky, he wants to give it a try someday. He can’t help but notice the loose dogs running around the town and the faint smell of cigarette smoke. 

This was a daily experience for University of Oregon senior Ethan Mentzer in his three-week climbing adventure in Chamonix.

Mentzer grew up in the small, conservative town of Clayton, Georgia near Lake Burton.

Surrounded by the outdoors, Ethan spent most of his childhood outside — he grew up enjoying motocross, bicycling, skateboarding, fly fishing and camping.

“I’ve never been big on team sports, I’ve always been independent and into action sports — just because that’s my kind of thing,” Ethan said.

His mother, Libbi, let Ethan deal with the consequences.

“If you break your wrist, that’s your fault and you can put up with it,” Libbi said.

When Ethan was 14, his family moved to Spokane, Washington.

While in high school, Ethan became a nanny for Mike Powers and Dr. Carla Smith. At the time, the couple had only one son, Sameer, a 5-year-old orphan from Nepal, whom they adopted in 2006.

Soon, Ethan became an older brother figure to Sameer.

“He just seemed like a good mentor for my son,” Powers said. “Sameer seeing (Ethan’s) actions in person, instead of just being lectured on how to act all the time, was pretty beneficial.”

Sameer trusted Ethan, but had trouble getting comfortable with others, even when Ethan was around.

“I’ll kind of have to push him, ‘come on dude it’s alright, they’re people just like me,'” Ethan said. “It’s cool because I look up to my older brother immensely, so it’s cool to be that figure.”

As a sophomore, Ethan gave climbing a try. It quickly became a passion.

This past summer, Powers, the director of staff development and guide at the American Alpine Institute, was working in Chamonix. But he wanted Sameer to visit while he had a three week break between clients.

After their connecting flights to Geneva and a shuttle ride through the Alps, Sameer and Ethan landed in Chamonix.

“Out in France, it was huge, so much bigger,” Ethan said. “The Alps are nuts. It was crazy.”

Immediately, Ethan fit in.

“Anything you want to do that’s dangerous and that could potentially kill yourself, is totally legal and okay there,” Ethan said.

Every day for three weeks Ethan, Powers and Sameer climbed.

“It was such a cool learning experience for me,” Ethan said. “The biggest one we did was a nine-pitch climb. We were on the rock for like six and a half hours, that’s something I’ve never done before.”

Powers enjoyed Ethan’s presence, especially with Sameer around.

“(Ethan) didn’t think he knew everything and was willing to listen to what I said and progress at a fairly conservative rate, especially when he’s modeling for my son,” Powers said.

Ethan hopes to get back to Chaminox, and perhaps give paragliding a try.

“I could see myself living there, I want to find a way to make that work,” Ethan said.

Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @andrewbantly


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