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Michael Covington was interviewed on June 9, 2000, by Dave Krupa at the NPS Talkeetna Ranger Station. Michael is the founder of Fantasy Ridge guiding service and is renowned for his climbing and guiding accomplishments. He has decades of experience doing difficult and committed climbs in Alaska and elsewhere. Long before the ascendance of "adventure tourism," Michael was putting together guided trips that pushed the envelope of the possible. While the West Buttress route was becoming the standard "milk route" up Denali, Michael was challenging his clients with risky climbs on the West Rib and the Cassin Ridge. Even Michael's peers seem to marvel that he has not only survived but led his clients safely beyond their abilities. Michael shares some truly astonishing stories of epics and near misses, and the philosophy that sustains him. He reflects on his gradual disenchantment with commercial guiding, and wonders aloud about how places like Talkeetna can keep their pioneer character in the face of rapid development.




Michael Covington talks with Dave Krupa in Talkeetna, AK on June 9, 2000. Denali National Park Jukebox Series.


1) Introduction and background.

Idylwild, CA\ Tahquitz Rock\ Yosemite\ rock climbing -- route\ Apache -- people\ Apache -- ranch\ culture -- dilemma\ Apache -- culture\ western civilization\ culture -- ideology\ mountain climbing -- guiding


2) His climbing history and early career as a rock and roll star.

parents -- separation\ Steamboat Springs, CO\ father\ Apache\ climbing\ ski racing -- bureaucracy\ egos\ market -- none\ climbing -- areas\ learning -- cooperative\ Chouinard, Yvon\ Kor, Layton]\ Robbins, Royal\ Schmitz, Kim\ Bridwell, Jim\ Lowe, George\ Lowe, Jeff\ Lowe, Mike\ guiding\ music -- rock and roll\ inspiration -- climbing\ Simon and Garfunkel -- producers\ Simon, Eddy\ Rocky Mountain National Park\ Garfunkel, Art\ musical career -- end


3) The beginnings of Fantasy Ridge and professional guiding.

guiding\ clientele\ music\ climbing -- school\ Fantasy Ridge\ Rocky Mountain National Park -- concessions\ National Park Service -- managment\ climbers -- rescuing\ climbing -- safety\ National Park -- attractions\ safety -- public\ rules -- self-imposed


4) His intent in opening Fantasy Ridge.

climbing\ guiding\ Apache -- culture\ land -- values\ Western -- culture\ land -- exploitation\ Fantasy Ridge\ Bridwell, Jim\ Westbay, Billy\ McClure, Daniel\ Snively, Doug\ climbing -- lifelong\ Rainier -- climbing school\ East Coast\ Exum -- climbing school\ Mt. Rainier\ Grand Teton\ certificate\ Robbins, Royal\ Rockcraft -- school\ guiding -- changes\ pitons\ climbing -- technical\ Chouinard, Yvon


5) His climbing related travel and expeditions.

guiding -- different\ Yosemite -- Big Wall Era\ routes -- new\ rock climbing\ Alpine climbing\ Denali\ Pakistan\ Nepal\ Africa\ South America\ climbing -- travel\ expeditions -- finances\ groups -- leading\Thurow, Lester


6) The evolution of his guiding career.

Thurow, Lester\ Denali -- West buttress\ Denali -- routes\ Bocarde, Gary\ West Rib\ 17 Camp\ Cassin Ridge\ South Buttress\ concessions -- formalizing\ business\ permit -- renewal\ Rocky Mountain Program\ permit -- transferred\ Telluride, CO\ National Forest Service\ National Park Service


7) Changes in professional guiding.

Denali -- West Buttress\ Denali -- number of climbers\ West Rib\ South Buttress\ Cassin Ridge\ concessions -- formalized\ routes -- guided\ guiding -- bureaucratic\ food -- prepared\ responsibility\ control -- insurance\ guides -- apprenticeships\ permit -- transferred


8) His dislikes of commercial guiding.

guiding -- independent\ business -- difficulties\ insurance -- requirements\ passion -- destroyed\ Apache\ exploitation -- gain\ Genet, Ray\ guiding -- European system


9) A memorable climb up the Cassin Ridge.

climbs -- memorable\ Cassin\ climber -- German\ alpine -- experience\ Estes Park\ ice climbing\ rock climbing\ April -- cold\ Japanese Couloir -- windy\ visibility -- bad\ West Rib\ Pratt, John\ Jenkewitz, Charley


10) Cassin Ridge story continued.

camping -- ropes\ Japanese Couloir\ expedition -- duration\ Estes Park\ ropes -- fixed\ rangers -- Denali National Park\ winds -- cold\ [ ] ,Charley\ summit ridge\ summit -- calm\ West Buttress\ Football Field\ weather -- broke\ climb -- descent


11) The descent of the Cassin Ridge climb.

Windy Corner\ Bocarde, Gary\ Genet, Ray -- dog team\ Mt. Everest\ Nuptse\ Scott, Doug\ North East Fork -- cache\ fuel -- ration\ stove -- kerosene\ glacier\ cache -- fuel\ climbs -- adventure\ Cassin Ridge\ West Rib\ South Buttress\ routes -- commercialized


12) Guiding a group of inexperienced climbers up the West Rib.

ascents -- first\ West Rib\ Bocarde, Gary\ climbers -- caliber\ tie-in -- bolin knot\ climbers -- inexperienced\ ropes -- fixed\ cache\ [ ],Fred\ jumaring\ ropes -- unclipped


13) West Rib story continued.

ridge -- camp site\ shelter -- ice axes\ couloir\ ice -- blue\ West Buttress\ platform -- tents\ summit


14) A difficult climb on which one client developed pulmonary edema and Michael nearly fell to his death.

West Buttress\ South Buttress\ route -- American Direct\ Cassin Ridge\ rockstorms -- tents\ tents -- patching\ glacier -- hanging\ April -- cold\ summit -- cache\ windstorm\ lenticular cloud\ pulmonary edema\ Gall, Steve -- client\ lips -- blue\ drug -- Diamox\ Hackett, Peter -- experiments\ Cupps, Mark\ conscious -- barely\ wind -- gust\ falling\ South Face\ rope -- kinks\ axe -- forest metal


15) Treating the client with pulmonary edema and getting him off the mountain.

dilemmas -- beginning\ pulmonary edema\ [?], Mark\ basecamp -- Kahiltna \ [ ], Francie\ Geeting, Doug -- pilot\ pulmonary edema -- treatment\ water\ helicopter -- Army\ Okonek, Jim -- helicopter\ weather -- poor\ base -- Ruth Glacier\ altitude -- improvement\ East Fork\ package -- beer& cigarettes\ West Rib\ West Buttress


16) Issues in guiding today, and the importance of uncertainty and adventure in climbing.

situations -- normal\ climbing -- adventure\ Lowe, George\ climbing -- commercial\ uncertainty -- value\ Fantasy Ridge\ American Mountain Guides Association


17) A number of climbs in the Ruth Glacier.

Denali\ Ruth Glacier\ Denali -- work\ Moose's Tooth -- West Summit\ Mount Dan Beard\ Southwest Peak --11300\ Mount Huntington -- American route\ West Face\ French Ridge\ aging -- interests


18) Attempting to climb the West Face of Mount Huntington.

Mount Huntington -- West Face\ Mount Huntington -- French Ridge\ Moose's Tooth -- West Summit\ Peak 11,300' -- Southwest Ridge\ snow -- heavy\ cornices -- size\ West Face -- American Route\ Tokositna Glacier\ climbing -- technical\ rappelling\ self-belaying\ jumaring\ weather -- bad\ avalanches\ Stegosaur Ridge


19) Mount Huntington story continued, and his attraction to and concerns for the community of Talkeetna.

snow caves\ ledges\ ropes -- fixing\ bivouac\ snow field\ weather -- storm\ rappel points\ anchors\ Alaska Range\ Talkeetna, AK\ Telluride, CO\ community -- development\ community -- destroyed\ Telluride, CO -- town council\ budget -- economy


20) Some of his memorable relationships.

relationships\ Geeting, Doug\ Hudson, Cliff\ Hudson, Jay\ Sheldon, Roberta\ Robinson, Roger\ Park Service\ Rachensteins\ Swiss Alaska\ Stevens, Mac\ Stevens, Nancy\ guiding\ community\ highway\ Ford Mustang -- black\ Anchorage\ Talkeetna, AK\ climbing -- early season


21) How Park Service changes have affected the sport of climbing.

National Park Service -- changes\ congress -- expectations\ sector -- private\ concessions\ standards -- insurance\ culprit -- "us"\ people -- power\ bureaucracy -- regulation


22) The changing climbing clientele.

clients -- change\ guiding -- professional\ media -- hype\ insurance companies\ marketing -- service\ adventure\ mountains -- inconsistencies\ Disneyland\ Fantasy Ridge\ guiding -- European\ expectations -- client


23) How changes have affected his guiding.

guiding -- transitions\ concession\ guiding -- different\ Fantasy Ridge\ Exum -- climbing school\ Rainier -- climbing school\ [Slozan, Bob]\ Faurot, Chip\ Talkeetna, AK\ work -- consistent\ West Buttress -- clientele\ Burleson, Todd -- Alpine ascents\ Cassin\ climbing -- business


24) Other climbs he would like to try and friends and former guides he would like to climb with again.

Mount Huntington\ Mt. Dickey -- East Face\ guiding\ Mount Silverthrone\ Mount Dan Beard\ route -- new\ Moose's Tooth\ Ham and Eggs route\ Krakauer, John\ San Juan Mountains\ Westbay, Bill\ Bridwell, Jim\ Snively, Doug\ Chouinard,Yvon\ Scott, Doug\ Goss, Wayne\ Estes Park\ Rocky Mountain Park\ Park Service


25) Problems with climbing today.

National Park Service -- management\ rescue policy -- expectation\ control\ society\ environment\ economy\ human nature\ conspiracy -- way of life\ power -- individual


26) Closing statements.

problem -- economy\ resource -- limited\ exploitation -- greed\ control\ cultural -- change\ truth -- fundamental