Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Chez Donini, my winter digs, is a meeting house for climbers world-wide. Two years ago, a small crowd from Paradox Sports stayed with me. Since Ouray is the center of the ice-climbing world, they were here to climb the vertical frozen waterfalls. Paradox Sports provides inspiration, opportunities and adaptive equipment to the disabled community, allowing them the opportunity to pursue extreme outdoor sports. That's where my life and theirs intersected. My good friend Malcolm Daly lost his leg in a climbing accident in the Alaska Range about 10 years ago. He is the executive director of Paradox sports and president of Trango Sport, and because I spend winters in Ouray, Malcolm brought the Paradox crew to visit.

Malcolm Daly rock climbing

You can check them out further at:

And now two years later, the Donini home had become a rallying point for the group, and I was the fortunate recipient of a great group of friends. This weekend Chad had driven down from Salt Lake City with Scott, Gena, and Sydney to get in as much ice climbing as possible in the Ouray Ice Park. We met at the 'Schoolroom' area in the ice park, where Mark Miller, the local San Juan Mountain guide had set up ropes for the climbers. Heidi, another local woman and last year's recipient of the "Got Stump" T-shirt joined us.

Each of their stories is inspirational. My friend Chad is an Iraqi war veteran who lost his foot when a IED exploded under his Humvee. In spite of the injury, he attacks the ice with the vigor and enthusiasm of a world class athlete.

Heidi lost her leg as a baby. I watched her the other night at the big party in her parents service station garage where the population of Ouray milled around three kegs of beer, a case of whiskey and tequila, and free food. She grabbed a friend in a screaming headlock, giggling and tickling. Watching her climb ice my face broke into a broad smile.

Sydney lost her leg at the age of 6 due to a bone cancer. She is a college student, enthused to climb with her best friends. She had the coolest crampon, and Chad constantly wanted to change feet with her. I accused them of having a foot fetish: "you only want her for her foot", or "Let me give you a little foot massage."

Chad, Sydney, Heidi, and Gina
at the Ouray Ice Park

Paradox Sports had developed an ice-climbing crampon to fit on their prosthetic legs. They attach with an allen screw, so several types of devices can be used for the specific sport: rock climbing shoes, ice boots, crampons....

Chad and Sydney exchange feet...crampons

There is no pussy-footing around with this bunch. They challenge the steepest ice and most difficult routes with the rest of us.

Sydney on the Scottish Climbs

Sydney flashes a great smile!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It has been a wonderful year. My children have enriched my life. I have reunited with old friends, made dozens of new ones, some on OS, some in person. Here are the highlights that make this holiday season so memorable:

My daughter, Daphne, drove over from Boulder to Ouray, Colorado, in January for a visit while I was house-sitting. It was the highlight of my trip.

Daphne in flannel pajamas

We spent a day at the Ouray Ice Park attacking the ice. Daphne has always been a natural athlete. Cool, huh?

Daphne climbing at the Ouray Ice Park

Daphne left me with two cats when she went off to college. They still rule the house and love me in spite of all my faults. Never thought I'd be a guy with inheritance from my daughter.
Ra and Magpie spreading hair and joy wherever they go

This winter in Anchorage, we held the first ever Alaska Ice Festival. Over 100 people participated, and I had the opportunity to teach two clinics, preside as Master of Ceremonies at the speed event, and perform as the auctioneer at the Organic Oasis dinner/fundraiser.

A competitor at the First Alaska Ice Festival

At the end of winter, the Anchorage Nordic Club holds an annual Champagne Brunch. Party, Party, Party!!! I love the skiing, the formal attire (check out my white shirt!), and the Champagne.
Colleen, Cynthia, Yours Truly, and Rebecca: the party animals
at the Champagne Brunch

Mid-March the annual Ice Pixies climbing celebration takes place in Valdez, Alaska, and lures women ice climbers from all over the state for a weekend of ascending frozen waterfalls and partying. I came for the dancing, beautiful women, and beer. At 4:30 am I was attacked by two baby Beluga's at the Pipeline club. Now that was memorable!

Dani with boa at the base of the frozen waterfall
at the Ice Pixies

Even though I live in the municipality of Anchorage, a variety of animals shares my yard with me. This lovely lady keeps the large willow tree pruned to perfection.

A moose nibbles the willow in my yard.

Come May, and the "World's Greatest Fisherman" shows up on my doorstep to take our little Lund skiff out onto the waters of Cook Inlet for King salmon and halibut. Thor has been fanatic about fishing since he was three. I've never seen him skunked, and this time proved no exception. He brought his friend Andy from Portland, and we out-fished the charter boats.

My son, Thor, with a nice King Salmon

May 9th, my daughter, Daphne, graduated from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. We all met her there and celebrated with her for the weekend. Emotions ran high, and tears flowed; it was simply the best time!

My daughter, Daphne, at graduation

Afterwards I embarked on a month-long climbing trip with my Colorado friends, starting at Ouray, then heading to Indian Creek with Donini and Chris in the pink Cadillac. We eventually went to Las Vegas to climb the Red Rocks, then back through the national parks of Utah, and ended up climbing in Vedauwoo Park in Wyoming. It was a fantastic trip!

Chris and I on the finest climbing road trip ever
through the West in the pink Cadillac

In mid-June, Rebecca and I headed to Banff for a week of hiking in the Canadian Rockies, drinking beer, and enjoying the local cuisine. We dined with my old friend Ron Perla, the first person to climb the famous Emperor Ridge on Mount Robson. Rebecca has a time-share condo...way cushy for a dirtbag climber like myself. The Rockies were fantastic!

Rebecca and I above Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

In July we spent a couple of weekends spraying, and sealing the log home I built in Denali National Park area. We got the caulking done just before freeze-up. I love the place, although it is remote from most of the world I inhabit these days. Twenty years ago I raised two kids and 30 sled dogs here. Memories of racing the 1000-mile Yukon Quest dogsled race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks, Alaska, three times swirled in my head as I painted.

My log home in Denali Park

In July, time for a big halibut fishing trip on Cook Inlet. Rebecca and I hauled the Lund skiff down the highway, caught a mess of fish, and danced the night away to Scupper.

Two road trips to Indian Creek: one in the spring and one in the fall with Jim, Chris, and the senior citizen gang. I dream of this trip every year, and my friends there are the reason for going. Camping, cooking, and three passions.

High up on 'Incredible Hand Crack'
Indian Creek, Utah

In August I flew from Alaska to reunite with the 1967 North Face rescue gang in Grand Teton National Park. Ted's daughter Jenny produced a move about us while we were there. That was a delightful, intense, and educational experience. Four of us climbed the Grand Teton again...I think I've been up it over 100 times, but each time feels like the first! It was moving to meet Lori whom we rescued 42 years ago and reunite with the best friends ever.

Ralph, Chris, Jamie and Mike on the summit of the
Grand Teton

The 1967 North Face Rescue Team reunited at Lupine Meadows

The rescue team and movie crew at the base of
the North Face of the Grand Teton

Of the many wonderful dinners out on the town, this one with a group of local belly dancers stands out as the number one highlight of the year.

Impromptu belly dancing at Turkey Red

My son, Thor, is the "World's Greatest Fisherman"; he is also crazy about hunting, especially Dall sheep hunting, so he, his wife Sarah, and I hiked 25 miles into the heart of the Alaska Range this fall to bag a sheep for the winter. This is what Alaska is all about. After the first day we didn't see another soul for 10 days. We hunted for the next week until we finally found a full-curl ram miles up a steep mountain. We floated out the glacial river in small one-person Alpacka rafts that Thor's mother manufactures.

Sarah and Thor get ready to cross the river

Each year while our mother was still alive, my sister Judy would gather us all at her place on Lake Tahoe for a reunion. Now that Mom is gone, we still assemble on the shores of the lake for a weekend and reconnect as a family. It's a lovely bunch; our parents would be proud!

My brothers and sisters with their families
Lake Tahoe, CA

Each winter I migrate south from Anchorage to Ouray, Colorado, for an extended visit during the darkest months of the year. Last weekend, I had the privilege of climbing with Chad, Sydney, Heidi, and Gena at the Ouray Ice Park. Three had lost legs due to a variety of conditions: Chad to an IED in Iraq, Syd to cancer as a child, and Heidi to a congenital defect. They are an inspiration to me.

Chad, Sydney, Heidi, and Gena
Ouray Ice Park

And, finally the best Christmas present ever. My two kids and partners came to visit me. We opened presents, ate lunch, played, and had the best time ever.

Corey, Daphne, Sarah, Thor, Yours Truly
Ouray, Colorado

My beautiful Christmas cactus in bloom!


Friday, December 25, 2009


My son Thor, and his wife, Sarah, drove from Portland, Oregon to Ouray, Colorado, to see me today; my daughter, Daphne and her boyfriend, Corey, left at 6am from Boulder and drove down. It was the best Christmas present ever to have them all together with me today!

Corey, Daphne, Sarah, Thor, Yours Truly

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jack Kerouac Changed My Life. I grew up reading, reading everything. When 'On The Road' came out, it had a dangerous and forbidden reputation. I had to read it.

The stream-of-consciousness writing style captured my imagination: 'The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.'

Jack Kerouac holding a first edition of 'On The Road'

As a young and impressionable guy I was mesmerized by the stories of the beatniks, chasing sex, drugs, alcohol, the aimless wild life on the road, and all the pleasures I was denied by my austere religious background. It rivaled anything I had read, but it was so real, so earthy, and so alluring. I had to drive!
Kerouac reading from "On The Road"

The pursuit of the sensual pleasures drove Kerouac and his friends across the country to Denver, San francisco, Los Angeles, the South, and even Mexico. Driving at high speed, fueled by drugs and alcohol, with a car full of friends reciting poetry, visiting friends, including women in the towns they visited. It was then I first realized that women were as sexual as men. It opened a new world to me, a world that Coleridge's Xanadu seemed mild by comparison.

There were parts of "On the Road" that just hummed in my mind. I remember going downtown Salt Lake City with my childhood friend Bobby Nelson to "The Abyss", an underground coffee house on Second South street where I could wear a black turtleneck and listen to Rosalie Sorrels sing folk songs. I had entered the world of the beats. A world filled with poetry, wine, and a free lifestyle. It was the antithesis of the strait-laced Mormon culture I had been reared in.

As soon as I got my driver's license and a Jeep, I drove with my friend Milt Hokanson from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole and climbed the Grand Teton. A few weeks later I got Ted Wilson and Bob Stout to go back with me to climb Mount Owen. Living in the campgrounds and the mountains with friends, I was in my element. Later I ended up working in the Tetons for sixteen years and drove back to Salt Lake at least once a month to visit...I'm sure I've driven that road over a hundred times.

Late the next winter Milt, Dave Wood, and I hopped into the Jeep and drove to Shiprock, New Mexico, and climbed Shiprock. We dumped the jeep on its side in a ditch in the middle of the night on a dirt road near the rock, but we were young and strong, and quickly lifted it back upright.

I didn't pick up the drinking...just the driving, and I drove everywhere. As the years went by, I drove across the US almost a dozen times, going to graduate school in Baltimore. And now that I'm retired, I travel constantly: two years ago I drove my diesel pickup from Alaska down and across the West, climbing, visiting, and enjoying the good life.

The suggestive cover of a paperback version of 'On The Road'

Kerouac wrote versions and pieces of his life on the road for many years. It wasn't until the mid-fifties that he found a publisher willing to take it. However, it needed a good job of editing, and the names had to be changed, less to protect the innocent, than the publisher, I believe. When I heard a year ago that the original scroll of 120 feet of teletype paper Kerouac had Scotch-taped together and typed the script for "On The Road" had been published, I had to read it. It wasn't the edited version I had read four times in the past five decades; The Scroll still had the original names: Kerouac, Cassidy, Ginsberg... And, all the wild times. As I read it, it seemed so real, perhaps even better than the published edition.

The recent edition of 'The Original Scroll'

As the years went by, I read many of Kerouac's books. I was particularly taken by "The Subterraneans", the story of his affair with Alene Lee in New York in 1953. At the time I remember feeling so sad for Alene, an African American woman who seemed to be so disadvantaged and lost in the book.

First edition of 'The Subterraneans'

William Burroughs & Alene Lee

A month ago I heard that One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, was out in a DVD. It is tribute by Jay Ferrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cuties, interspersed with footage of Kerouac and commentary from the like of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tom Waits and others. "Big Sur" tells the story of how after the success of "On The Road", Kerouac went back to San Francisco to dry out at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin near Big Sur. It didn't last long, and he hiked back to San Francisco and lapsed into a huge binge with old friends.
Trailer for "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone"
So....I picked up my copy of "Big Sur" and re-read it. I was sad for Kerouac, unable to kick his booze habit, not wanting to sit like a hermit in the wilds, wanting to be with his friends even though it killed him.

First Edition of 'Big Sur'
And tonight I'm thinking of getting in my car and driving the 4,000 miles in 4 days down the Alcan Highway to the "Lower 48" to visit my friends for Christmas....