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Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Jim Donini

Jim Donini was interviewed on June 30, 2000 by Dave Krupa at the National Park Service Ranger Station in Talkeetna, Alaska. In this interview, Jim shares his climbing philosophy and technique, providing great descriptions of climbs in Alaska such as the Diamond Arete and Northeast Spur on Mount Hunter, the Cobra Pillar on Mount Barrille, and his recent epic with Malcom Daly on Thunder Mountain. Jim describes the mentality necessary to keep pushing in the face of adversity, and knowing when to turn back. He also explains why he prefers climbing with one partner only, and offers excellent profiles of climbing partners such as Jack Tackle, Malcom Daly, Greg Crouch, and John Bragg. Jim reflects on the ways that improvements in climbing and rescue technology can paradoxically lead to greater peril because of a false sense of security among mountaineers. He also talks about his project to climb and document the "seven real summits:" the most difficult peak to summit on each continent.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-19

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jun 30, 2000
Narrator(s): Jim Donini
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) His introduction to climbing

2) Climbing in the Tetons and the evolution of tools and technology

3) The negative effect that guiding can have on a climber

4) Climbing Cerro Torre in Patagonia

5) His first climb in Alaska and realizing the potential for first ascents and world class climbing in the Alaska Range

6) The Diamond Arete climb on Mt. Hunter

7) The mentality to keep pushing and the epic trip on the Northeast Spur of Mt. Hunter

8) Malcolm Daly's fall on the Thunder Mountain climb

9) Making decisions and dealing with adverse situations

10) Why he only climbs with one partner and what he looks for in a climbing partner

11) Climbing partner qualities and what he looks for in selecting a route or peak to climb

12) Uniqueness of the Alaska Range and comparison to Patagonia

13) Selecting technical routes and climbing the Cobra Pillar on Mount Barrille

14) The route on Mt. Bradley and locating future climbs from the summit

15) More on the Thunder Mountain climb and accident and transferring gym skills to the mountain

16) Handling unexpected challenges while on a climb

17) Decision making with a climbing partner

18) Making decisions to turn back on Cerro Torre and in the Karakoram

19) The difficulty of preparing for Himalayan climbs versus those in Alaska

20) Seasonal climbing and the impact that evolution in technology and technique have had in the climbing world

21) Feelings about the South Col route on Mount Everest, the West Buttress on Denali, and the people who attempt those routes

22) The seven summits vs. the seven "real" summits -- the most difficult peak on each continent to reach

23) How he has been able to continue climbing at such a high standard into his mid-50s, and climbing as a lifestyle rather than a sport or hobby

24) Plans to write articles, and his opinions about the use of technology to overcome difficulty

25) How technology can lower a climber's level of commitment and give a false sense of security, and remembering climbing friends that have passed away

26) The risk of alpine climbing and the optimism of Malcolm Daly

27) The inspiring story of Malcolm Daly stranded on a ledge, waiting for the rescue

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Section 1: Philadelphia, PA\ U.S. Army -- Special Forces\ climbing -- introduction\ British SAS\ North Carolina\ climbing gyms\ climbing schools\ Canadian Rockies\ Glacier National Park\ Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills\ gear -- purchase\ climbing -- leading\ climbing -- learning\ climbing -- 1960's\ Yosemite Valley|

Section 2: Johnson, Ross\ U.S. Army -- Special Forces\ climbing -- early\ Teton Mountains\ Jenny Lake\ Tingey, Ralph\ climbing ranger\ Chouinard, Yvon\ Robbins, Royal\ Yosemite -- climbing\ barriers -- psychological\ routes -- reputation\ Black Ice Couloir\ ice tools\ crampons\ boots\ gear -- quality\ steps -- chopping\ front pointing\ technology -- evolution\ techniques -- evolution|

Section 3: National Park Service -- recruitment\ Yosemite -- climbing\ El Capitan -- Salathé Wall\ guiding\ Exum Guiding Services\ Teton Mountains\ concessionaire\ park rangers\ Exum, Glen\ climbing -- ambition\ rock climbing\ limits -- finding\ guiding -- patience|

Section 4: climbing -- big wall\ Yosemite -- climbing\ crack climbing\ mountains -- interest\ rock climbing -- building block\ alpine climbing -- limits\ routes -- technical\ rock climbers\ Patagonia\ South America\ Cerro Stanhardt|

Section 5: Torre Egger\ Egger, Tony\ Col of Conquest -- South America\ di Maestri, Chester -- Italian\ summit -- difficulty\ routes -- unrepeated\ Alaska\ Patagonia\ Himalayas -- Karakoram\ China\ alpine climbing\ Patagonia -- sales representative\ Tackle, Jack\ Alaska Range\ Mt. Hunter\ Diamond Arete -- route\ Alaska climbing -- world class\ ascents -- first\ routes -- new\ access -- ease\ Anchorage, AK\ Talkeetna, AK\ airplane -- bush\ landings -- glacier\ base camp|

Section 6: Diamond Arete -- route\ pocket glacier\ Tokositna Glacier\ Washburn, Bradford -- photographs\ access -- difficult\ pilots\ airplanes -- Cessna 180\ Hudson, Cliff\ airplanes -- Supercub\ Tackle, Jack\ Hudson, Jay\ landing -- glacier\ area -- remote\ weather -- bad\ Kahiltna Glacier\ base camp|

Section 7: climbing -- mentality\ work -- hard\ Alaska Range\ Patagonia\ determination\ moments -- crux\ Mt. Hunter\ rope -- dropped\ ledge -- chopping\ bivouac\ tent\ spindrift -- avalanche\ descent -- white out\ Mt. Hunter -- Northeast Spur\ bergschrund -- jumping\ Tackle, Jack\ unconscious \ avalanche -- danger\ rappel\ ice -- falling\ Tackle, Jack -- unconscious\ trip -- epic|

Section 8: Mt. Wake\ weather -- storm\ route -- new\ avalanche -- danger\ rappel -- wall\ rock -- poor quality\ Alaska Range\ situations -- dangerous\ Daly, Malcolm\ ice route -- new\ Thunder Mountain\ Mt. Hunter\ ice climbing\ pitch -- overhanging\ snow climbing\ anchor -- pulled\ climbing -- leading\ Daly, Malcolm -- fall\ thigh -- cramponed\ injuries\ legs -- broken\ fall -- survived\ rappel\ down climb\ glacier -- remote\ Roderick, Paul\ Talkeetna Air Taxi\ Ranger Station\ injuries -- treatment\ rescue -- technical\ helicopter\ frostbite -- feet\ injuries -- recovery|

Section 9: decision making\ fear -- lack of\ focus\ climbing -- relaxing\ life -- every day\ emergencies -- handling\ exhaustion\ pain\ glacier\ tent\ adversity -- overcoming\ climbing -- injuries\ partners\ Latok I\ Himalayas -- Karakoram\ route -- duration\ food -- low\ frostbite\ Cerro Torre\ winds -- speed\ descent\ Mt. Wake\ Tackle, Jack\ rappelling\ rock -- poor quality\ Mt. Hunter|

Section 10: China -- remote\ peak -- unclimbed\ Tackle, Jack\ team -- four members\ expedition leader\ climbing -- face\ climbing -- drive\ decision making\ descent\ rock climbing -- partners\ alpine climbing -- partners\ Crouch, Greg\ Daly, Malcolm\ determination\ intelligence\ excuses -- making\ experience\ confidence\ discomfort -- overcoming|

Section 11: endurance\ camping -- knowledge\ Yosemite -- climbing\ bivouac\ snow -- melting\ discomfort -- overcoming\ basecamp\ climbs -- technical\ climbing -- skills\ maturity\ drive\ Alaska Range\ climb -- difficulty\ route -- aesthetic nature\ routes -- new\ urge -- exploratory\ discovery\ puzzle -- solving\ routes -- obscurity\ route structure|

Section 12: Alaska Range\ Alaska\ Patagonia\ places -- favorite\ areas -- counter seasonal\ areas -- remote\ culture -- local\ wildlife -- interest\ slideshows\ climbs -- Himalayan\ prayer flags -- Tibetan\ wolves\ mountain lions\ Mt. Barrille\ Ruth Amphitheater\ wolverine\ areas -- beauty\ access -- ease\ Himalayas\ access -- complicated\ permits\ porters\ liaison officers\ Himalayas -- Karakoram Range\ commitment -- time\ Alaska Range -- glaciation\ glaciers -- dying\ Peru\ West Buttress -- crowds\ Alaska Range -- remoteness|

Section 13: routes -- remote\ routes -- appeal\ Mt. Foraker\ Mt. Hunter\ Moose's Tooth\ Mt. Bradley\ Mt. Barrille\ Washburn, Bradford -- photographs\ routes -- selection\ ascents -- first\ Wasburn, Bradford -- gratitude\ Denali -- never attempted\ Ruth Gorge\ rock climbing\ alpine climbing\ Tackle, Jack\ Cobra Pillar -- route\ descent -- ease\ landing strip\ Sheldon Amphitheater\ climb -- technical\ slide shows\ routes -- recommendation\ book -- 50 climbers:

Section 14: Mt. Bradley\ rock climbing\ rock -- poor quality\ climb -- semi-dangerous\ Crouch, Greg\ Patagonia\ Cerro Torre\ FitzRoy\ Alaska\ routes -- new\ Bourbon Bottle -- route\ Denali\ Mt. Dickey\ Moose's Tooth\ ice runnel\ couloir\ ice climbing\ Shaken, not Stirred -- route\ route -- repeated\ glacier -- drinking\ martinis\ Daly, Malcolm\ Thunder Mountain -- accident\ rock pillar\ Bragg, John\ Torre Egger\ Thunder Mountain|

Section 15: ice climbing\ Daly, Malcolm\ Thunder Mountain\ climb -- uncompleted\ climb -- quality\ waterfalls\ alpine ice\ ice -- quality\ ice -- vertical\ sport climbing\ climbing gyms\ climbing -- specialization\ Yosemite -- crack climbing\ face climbing\ climbing -- gymnastics\ protection -- placement\ skills -- transfer\ alpine rock climbing\ crack lines\ skills -- necessary|

Section 16: route -- selection\ prow\ ice climbing\ crack climbing\ pitches\ rock -- poor quality\ climb -- unexpected challenges\ Moose's Tooth\ ice runnel\ Crouch, Greg\ ice gully\ decision making\ commitment\ experience\ protection -- opportunities\ difficulty -- determining\ guide books\ protection -- placement\ limits -- knowing|

Section 17: Bragg, John\ limits -- pushing\ decision making\ skills -- complimentary\ climbing partner\ abilities\ commitment\ excuses -- making\ error -- over cautious\ fuel -- low\ weather -- bad\ uncomfortableness|

Section 18: Crouch, Greg\ weather -- bad\ Patagonia\ Cerro Torre\ bivouac\ ice cap\ high cirrus\ storm -- approaching\ Cerro Torre -- headwall\ decision making\ ropes -- iced\ wind -- speed\ batteries -- failure\ head lamps\ Uzum Brakk\ Himalayas -- Karakoram\ terrain -- technical\ altimeter watches\ Baltoro Glacier\ storm -- duration\ decisions -- intuition|

Section 19: climbing -- style\ Himalayas\ porters\ permits\ liaison officers\ cook\ expedition climbing\ Alaska -- preparation\ pilots\ Talkeetna, AK\ glacier -- organization\ gear -- ice climbing\ gear -- rock climbing\ climbing -- possibilities\ objectives -- primary\ Mt. Hunter -- new route\ Bragg, John\ Thunder Mountain\ climbing -- timing\ exposure|

Section 20: climbing -- seasons\ alpine -- climbing\ routes -- rock\ exposure\ ice routes\ winter climbing\ ice climbing -- Colorado\ Patagonia -- summer\ Alaska -- summer\ book\ climbing -- technical\ technology -- change\ equipment -- evolution\ climbing -- easier\ technology -- advancement\ climbing -- knowledge\ techniques -- advancement|

Section 21: Mt. Everest -- South Col route\ Hillary, Sir Edmund\ climbing -- challenges\ oxygen -- gear\ gear -- improvement\ fixed lines\ steps -- kicking\ Sherpas\ porters\ challenges -- lack of\ West Buttress\ adventure\ guide -- services\ non-climbers\ climb -- not technical\ Arctic Circle -- proximity\ Pacific Ocean -- proximity\ conditions -- difficult\ travel -- adventure\ Denali -- number of climbers\ West Buttress -- crowds\ Aconcagua -- South America\ Mt. Vincent -- Antarctica\ seven summits|

Section 22: Seven Summits\ climbing\ Mt. Everest\ article -- "Seven Real Summits"\ continents -- high points\ continents -- hardest points\ tower -- Southeast Alaska\ Baffin Island\ vertical walls\ United States -- high points\ Denali\ Delaware -- road intersection|

Section 23: climbing -- age\ magazines -- "Climbing"\ magazines -- "Rock and Ice"\ climbing -- high standard\ genetics\ sport -- speed\ climbing -- endurance\ strength\ techniques\ knowledge\ experience\ abuse -- self\ England -- climbing\ pubs\ aging -- effect\ Lowe, George\ Bridwell, Jim\ climbing -- lifestyle\ climbing -- importance|

Section 24: writing -- articles\ National Geographic\ Torre Egger\ writing -- desire\ marriage\ article -- Seven Real Summits\ climbing -- style\ Messner, Reinhold\ article -- "Murder of the Impossible"\ technology -- use\ Army Corps of Engineers\ NASA\ face -- unclimbed\ Himalayas\ escalator\ climbing -- essence\ support -- technology\ Patagonia\ Alaska Range\ cell phones\ dependency -- false\ Mt. Everest -- tragedy\ New Zealand\ Hall, Rob\ wife -- call\ commitment -- level\ bivouac\ survival\ confidence -- false|

Section 25: National Park Service\ climbing -- style\ Patagonia -- fixed ropes\ Himalayas -- oxygen\ Alaska -- radios\ radio -- use\ lives -- saving\ security -- false\ commitment -- level\ Denali\ rescues -- numbers\ friends -- deaths\ drive\ caribou\ alpine climbers\ Lowe, Alex\ Shaw, Seth\ Ruth Gorge\ rock climbing -- safety\ alpine climbing -- risk|

Section 26: son -- rock climbing\ alpine climbing\ Alaska Range\ Patagonia\ routes -- new\ risk factors\ judgement\ Lowe, Alex\ Bridwell, Jim\ Daly, Malcolm -- skill\ injuries -- severity\ rehabilitation\ optimism\ personality -- quality\ adversity -- overcoming\ hospital\ Anchorage, AK\ nurses\ inspiration|

Section 27: Daly, Malcolm\ ledge -- stranded\ frostbite -- feet\ feet -- bleeding\ pilot -- helicopter\ Shott, Billy\ rescue -- long line\ Trango -- owner\ Trango -- ice tools\ optimism\ good nature\ strength\ Daly, Malcolm -- wife\ Talkeetna Airport\ Anchorage, AK\ legs -- broken\ shoulders -- sore\ survival -- fight\ avalanches -- spindrift\ inspiration\ Crouch, Greg\ Mt. Bradley\ Alaska Range|