Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Michael Covington

Michael Covington was interviewed on June 9, 2000 by Dave Krupa at the National Park Service Ranger Station in Talkeetna, Alaska. In this interview, Michael talks about his career as a climber and mountaineer and founding of his guiding business Fantasy Ridge. He tells some truly astonishing stories of epics and near misses on various peaks in the Alaska Range and around the world, and shares the philosophy that sustains him. Finally, he reflects on his gradual disenchantment with commercial guiding, and wonders about how places like Talkeetna will be able to keep their pioneer character in the face of rapid development.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-07

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jun 9, 2000
Narrator(s): Michael Covington
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

1) Personal background

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

3) The beginnings of Fantasy Ridge and professional guiding

4) His intent in opening Fantasy Ridge

5) His climbing related travel and expeditions

6) The evolution of his guiding career

7) Changes in professional guiding

8) His dislikes of commercial guiding

9) A memorable climb up the Cassin Ridge

10) Continuation of the Cassin Ridge story

11) The descent of the Cassin Ridge climb

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

13) Continuation of the West Rib story

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

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

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

17) A number of climbs on the Ruth Glacier

18) Attempting to climb the West Face of Mount Huntington

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

20) Some of his memorable relationships

21) How changes with the National Park Service have effected the sport of climbing

22) The changing climbing clientele

23) How changes have effected his guiding

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

25) Problems with climbing today

26) Closing statements about problems with greed, control, and changing cultural norms

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Transcript

Section 1: Idylwild, CA\ Tahquitz Rock\ Yosemite\ rock climbing -- route\ Apache -- people\ Apache -- ranch\ culture -- dilemma\ Apache -- culture\ western civilization\ culture -- ideology\ mountain climbing -- guiding|

Section 2: 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|

Section 3: 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|

Section 4: 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|

Section 5: 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|

Section 6: 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|

Section 7: 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|

Section 8: guiding -- independent\ business -- difficulties\ insurance -- requirements\ passion -- destroyed\ Apache\ exploitation -- gain\ Genet, Ray\ guiding -- European system|

Section 9: 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|

Section 10: 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|

Section 11: 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|

Section 12: ascents -- first\ West Rib\ Bocarde, Gary\ climbers -- caliber\ tie-in -- bolin knot\ climbers -- inexperienced\ ropes -- fixed\ cache\ ?, Fred\ jumaring\ ropes -- unclipped|

Section 13: ridge -- camp site\ shelter -- ice axes\ couloir\ ice -- blue\ West Buttress\ platform -- tents\ summit|

Section 14: 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|

Section 15: 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|

Section 16: situations -- normal\ climbing -- adventure\ Lowe, George\ climbing -- commercial\ uncertainty -- value\ Fantasy Ridge\ American Mountain Guides Association|

Section 17: 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|

Section 18: 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|

Section 19: 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|

Section 20: 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|

Section 21: National Park Service -- changes\ congress -- expectations\ sector -- private\ concessions\ standards -- insurance\ culprit -- "us"\ people -- power\ bureaucracy -- regulation|

Section 22: clients -- change\ guiding -- professional\ media -- hype\ insurance companies\ marketing -- service\ adventure\ mountains -- inconsistencies\ Disneyland\ Fantasy Ridge\ guiding -- European\ expectations -- client|

Section 23: 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|

Section 24: 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|

Section 25: National Park Service -- management\ rescue policy -- expectation\ control\ society\ environment\ economy\ human nature\ conspiracy -- way of life\ power -- individual|

Section 26: problem -- economy\ resource -- limited\ exploitation -- greed\ control\ cultural -- change\ truth -- fundamental|