Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Dave Johnston

Dave Johnston was interviewed on December 15, 2000 by Dave Krupa at Johnson's walk-in cabin off the Talkeetna Spur Road near Talkeetna, Alaska. In the interview, Dave gives a detailed account of the 1967 winter climb of Denali, sharing great stories of the physical as well as interpersonal challenges of survival in epic circumstances. He also reflects on his motivations for climbing, challenges that lay ahead, and the changes he has seen in the world of mountaineering.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-31

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Dec 15, 2000
Narrator(s): Dave Johnston
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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After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.

Sections

1) Personal background

2) How he arrived in Alaska, and meeting the team to make first winter ascent of Denali

3) Trip to Alaska, and ascent of Mt. Robeson

4) Survival tales of hungry climbers with no jobs

5) Getting money and people for the winter ascent of Denali

6) The ascent of Denali and watching solar eclipse on Denali's summit

7) Failed photo career, and his experiences with altitude

8) Assessment of his group's position in the climbing community regarding their first winter ascent of Denali

9) Forgotten gear and their first ascent of Denali's South Peak, which turned out to actually be the Middle Peak

10) Memories of the descent to Talkeetna

11) Early career as an altitude chamber guinea pig

12) Learning to use his hands with big mittens on

13) Climbs leading up to the big Denali climb

14) The day Jacque "Farine" Batkin wasn't roped up and fell into a crevasse

15) Tensions among team members while on the mountain

16) More discussion of group dynamics, and anecdotes

17) Shiro Nishimae decides to bivouac under a parachute on the summit of Denali, but won't bring his sleeping bag because it is too heavy

18) Explains why not everyone made it to the top

19) Getting stuck in Denali Pass

20) Trying to survive in Denali Pass

21) Continuation of trying to survive in Denali Pass

22) Finally being able to get out and to be picked up at 13,000 feet

23) Recovery and hospitalization

24) Working to locate a crashed National Guard airplane

25) Getting an award for his efforts to aid the military in rescue operations

26) Lack of strong friendships formed with his climbing partners

27) Motivations for his solo attempt on Denali

28) How his solos on Denali and on Mount Sanford played out

29) The equipment used for his solo attempt and why he didn't summit

30) Getting down from Denali, and discussion of philosophy behind walk-in and other purist climbing techniques

31) Comparing old and new styles of climbing

32) Why he grew to love Alaska

33) Taking a family trip up the West Buttress of Denali

34) Views on rescue, and National Park Service policy and restrictions

35) Impressive people and climbs

36) The thrill and learning from his former student

37) His goals and dreams

38) Conclusion

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Transcript

Section 1: ranger\ homesteader\ Alaska Range\ Denali -- winter ascent\ National Park Service\ Talkeetna, AK\ New Jersey\ World War II\ North Carolina\ Father -- Navy\ school -- New Jersey\ New York City -- forays\ climbing -- books\ school -- junior high\ parents -- teachers\ summers -- Maine, Vermont, Washington|

Section 2: sign -- severe\ trails -- deaths\ rock climbing -- start\ Vermont\ New Jersey\ Appalachian Mountain Club\ New York\ Plans -- Colorado\ Oregon State University -- applied\ Colorado State University\ Miller, Daryl \ trips -- Mexico\ trips -- Alaska\ climbing -- addiction\ Colorado State University -- Hiker's Club\ Robinson, Pete\ Mexico -- 1964\ Alaska -- 1963\ Ascent -- winter\ Hoeman, Vin\ South America\ goal -- sleep at highest point of every country\ Haines Junction\ brother\ jobs -- logging\ hitch hiking -- broke\ Icefield Rangers Research Project\ job -- digging\ Bishop, Barry \ Kaskawalsh Glacier\ pay -- none|

Section 3: weather -- perfect\ Mt. Logan\ Anchorage\ Roberts, Dave\ Davidson, Art\ plans -- Kichatnas\ Plans -- Denali, winter\ 1963 -- memories\ Alaska -- impressions\ Mt. Robson -- Canadian Rockies\ ascent -- first winter\ Jasper\ guide -- recommendations\ conditions -- terrible\ route -- regular\ summit -- storm\ descent -- third day\ Bird Lake\ weather -- cleared\ avalanches|

Section 4: money -- gone\ food -- spruce hens\ Palmer\ Matanuska Peak -- Thumb\ Hoeman, Vin\ Jobs -- none\ ?, Pete\ Hoeman, Vin -- Army\ Rations -- stolen, cached\ hitchhiking\ Raggedtop Mountain.\ Girdwood\ ice axe\ willow ptarmigan -- raw\ Andy Simons Mountain\ goat\ Hudson, Cliff\ rock, ice axe\ meat -- tough\ furniture -- moving\ courthouse|

Section 5: furniture -- moving\ courthouse\ hospital\ wheel chairs -- marks\ Denali -- climb\ lawyers -- money\ building -- stone wall\ contract -- painting\ jobs -- plenty\ Robison, Paul\ Colorado\ Washington\ Hoeman, Vin\ Choate, Tom\ Missoula -- Ph.D\ Alaska -- hitchhiked\ pack -- weight\ Ells, Cliff\ Wonder Lake\ mosquitoes -- terrible\ Muldrow Glacier -- elevation\ rain\ crevasses -- falls\ Mt. Robson\ crevasses -- disguised|

Section 6: air drops -- Hudson, Cliff\ support flight -- first\ Supercub -- borrowed\ cans -- airdrop\ cans -- mislabeled\ climbers -- sick\ descent -- hunger\ caches -- raiding\ caches -- tradition\ summits -- successful\ Hudson, Cliff -- eating\ college -- running\ climbing -- technique\ boots -- frozen\ socks -- extra\ socks, 11 pair\ mukluks -- Army\ crampons\ footwear -- light\ luck\ Denali -- North Peak\ Denali -- South Peak\ sun -- eclipse\ July 20\ Denali summit -- camping\ weather -- calm\ shadow -- colors\ temperature -- drop|

Section 7: camera -- filters\ eclipse -- pictures\ aspirations -- photography\ cameras -- problems\ Washburn -- pictures\ camera -- rusted\ memory -- wonderful\ summit -- camping, rare\ climbers -- Japanese\ aspirations -- Everest\ altitude -- knowledge\ literature\ Hoeman,Vin -- birds\ lichens\ flowers\ tent -- platform\ Denali Pass\ Denali -- South Peak\ voices\ Harvard expedition\ Roberts, Dave|

Section 8: Roberts, Dave\ Kichatna\ Denali Pass\ Harvard team\ Colorado State University\ professors -- inspirational\ school -- enthusiasm\ climbing -- community\ Mt. Deborah\ Mt. Huntington -- West Face\ revelations\ Washburn, Bradford\ ascents -- first\ Mt. Lucania\ Bates, Bob\ altitude -- 16,000 ft.\ Mt. Steele -- West Buttress\ Hoeman,Vin\ Bates -- visit\ South America\ New Hampshire -- Exeter College\ Kahiltna Glacier\ pick-up\ walk out\ snow -- depth\ Carter, Ed\ Alpine Journal -- editor\ Mt. Foraker -- ascent, second\ Denali Pass\ Mt. Hunter\ Hudson, Cliff|

Section 9: Hudson, Cliff\ take-off\ snowshoes\ crevasse\ bounce\ Muldrow Glacier\ air drops\ area -- maps\ train -- Anchorage\ McKinley Park\ ranger\ gear -- check\ cookpots -- forgotten\ tin can\ wands -- willow\ rods -- stirring\ paint -- fluorescent\ Hunter -- plateau\ Denali -- Middle Peak\ Kendall Mint Cake\ Denali- North Peak\ Denali -- South Peak\ identity -- mistaken\ cornice -- midnight\ summit -- 2:00 AM\ Hoeman,Vin -- leader\ Denali -- West Ridge\ bergschrund\ Hoeman,Vin -- disappeared|

Section 10: high camp\ Dutch Hills\ Cummings, Rocky\ Petersville\ breakfast -- bacon, eggs\ coffee -- whiskey\ Talkeetna, AK -- laundry\ wife -- kids\ Forks Road House\ Bradley, Shorty\ bloodhounds\ myna bird\ Bradley, Florence\ muffins -- blueberry\ phone -- hand crank\ Hudson, Cliff\ Carey, Mary\ Anchorage -- tickets\ story -- rights\ work -- gas company\ Hoeman,Vin\ Daily News\ photos\ strawberries\ Hudson, Cliff\ house -- burned\ chimney -- stone\ caribou -- smoked|

Section 11: Colorado\ hitchhiking\ girlfriend\ Fort Collins\ Aspen, CO\ Vale, CO\ journal, gear -- stolen\ days -- 35\ miles -- 250\ Devil's Tower\ ranger -- climbing\ ranger -- Glacier Bay\ ?, Pete\ visitors -- few\ fishing -- commercial\ motorboats\ climbing\ bears\ fish\ South America\ logging -- Alaska, southeast\ St. Elias\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- Fairbanks\ Petajan?, Jack\ altitude chamber\ guinea pigs\ Playboy|

Section 12: house -- dump\ Farmer's Loop\ temperature\ insulation -- sawdust\ ptarmigan -- cage\ construction -- cost\ mittens\ chicken wire\ hog rings\ Anchorage, AK\ Collins, ?\ food -- preferences\ hassle\ Nishimae, Shiro -- force\ food -- Japanese\ sick\ Anchorage, AK -- teaching\ Colorado -- gear\ Boulder, CO -- connections\ gear -- free\ tents|

Section 13: Genet, Ray\ Davidson, Art\ Blomberg\ climbers -- weak\ luck\ January\ Talkeetna, AK\ Sheldon, Don\ winter -- beautiful\ Mount Alice -- trapping\ Seward\ Hitt?, Dennis\ Stockard, Don\ Hoeman, Vin\ bergschrund \ Dennis -- dead|

Section 14: Denali\ confidence\ scare\ Mt. Huntington\ Farine\ ropes -- none\ snowshoes -- none\ pack -- heavy\ Farine -- fell through\ straps -- broken\ projection -- ice\ fifty feet\ ledge\ George, Wickman\ Farine -- dead\ Blomberg\ Nishimae, Shiro -- leader|

Section 15: Davidson, Art\ sastrugi\ loads -- hauling\ work -- sharing\ Wickman, George\ surgeon -- orthopedic\ stove -- lighting\ equipment -- breaking\ Tokositna -- Indian\ cold -- resistance\ accident\ South East Fork\ Kahiltna\ area -- flat\ crevasses -- direction\ decision -- continue\ radio\ contention\ Anchorage\ Genet, Ray -- publicity|

Section 16: Genet, Ray\ "glory hound"\ hustler\ Alaska\ Edwards, John\ New Zealander\ Sierra\ nature\ life -- altitude\ Mt. Makalu\ plants -- flowering\ chickweed -- elevation\ spiders -- jumping\ ?, John\ Nishimae, Shiro\ supper\ graph paper\ black pepper\ folksongs -- Russian\ Wickman, George\ Davidson, Art\ Windy Corner -- worry\ movement -- speed\ caches -- Almond Roca\ camp -- igloo\ elevation --14,000 ft\ Coleman -- donation\ warmth|

Section 17: storm\ camp -- 14,000 ft\ temperature\ toilet -- indoor\ pin down -- duration\ fun\ food\ fuel -- Blazo\ time -- limit\ park service\ camp -- 16,000 ft\ high camp -- 17,000 ft\ Nishimae, Shiro\ Davidson, Art\ parachute -- camp\ Denali -- West Buttress\ temperature -- 50 below\ sleeping bag -- weight\ jacket -- down\ pants -- down|

Section 18: Genet, Ray -- helicopter\ plane -- crash\ National Guard\ Chinook\ food\ altitude -- 17,000 ft\ Wickman, George\ snow -- cave\ sausage -- greasy\ acclimation\ tents\ altitude --19,000 ft\ weather -- questionable\ storm\ Davidson, Art\ ?, Mairiis\ summit -- 7PM\ group -- split|

Section 19: summit\ view -- Anchorage\ Glacier Bay -- phosphorescence\ temperature\ Weather Service -- thermometer\ chill factor -- minus 137\ Denali Pass\ Farine -- cap\ Davidson, Art -- fatigue\ camp -- parachute\ morning -- wind\ Nishimae, Shiro\ ?, Greg\ snow -- cave\ Davidson, Art\ Genet, Ray\ snow -- shallow\ sleeping bag -- wet\ down -- frozen|

Section 20: parachute -- lost\ wind\ altitude\ communication\ pack -- lost\ pads -- lost\ snow -- cave\ Davidson, Art\ Genet, Ray\ snow -- shallow\ sleeping bag -- wet\ down -- frozen|

Section 21: food -- minimal\ wind -- dying\ Washburn, Bradford\ peas\ ham\ cave -- enlarged\ cooking\ radio - lost\ Bunny Boots\ carelessness\ weather -- waiting\ worry -- none\ fuel -- amount\ Clorox -- bottle\ cache -- 1963\ Genet, Ray|

Section 22: flame -- green\ odor -- plastic\ stove -- 11 lb. Optimus\ situation -- communication\ talk -- minimal\ dehydration\ weather -- change\ descent\ crampons -- failed\ hands -- frozen\ eating\ helicopter\ altitude -- 13,000'\ rescue -- unwilling|

Section 23: feet -- frozen\ hands -- frozen\ toes -- lost\ Davidson, Art\ others -- gone\ Nishimae, Shiro\ Talkeetna, AK -- landing\ Sheldon, Don\ milk\ Tejas, Vern\ airplane -- 180\ Broad Pass\ Institute of Arctic Biology\ weather -- bad\ FAA station\ mail\ bath \ toast\ weight -- gain\ Fairbanks\ hospital\ breakfast -- 19 eggs\ Bartlett Army Hospital\ Petajan, Jack\ native hospital|

Section 24: climbers -- separated\ Talkeetna, AK\ Genet, Ray\ climbing -- together\ Mt. Sanford\ snow -- cave\ fumes\ cooking\ supper\ oatmeal\ helicopter\ plane -- National Guard\ Whitehorse\ crash\ Elmendorf -- briefing\ fuselage -- broken\ survivors -- none\ lives -- risked\ Davidson, Sally -- pregnant\ Denali\ replacement -- died|

Section 25: summit -- Sanford\ landing\ military\ civilian -- experience\ illness -- altitude\ weather -- stable\ deaths -- pulmonary edema\ helicopters -- women\ General\ Anchorage -- award\ pilot\ dogs -- St. Bernards\ shopping -- groceries\ General -- drunk\ Davidson, Sally\ visibility -- poor\ flying -- scary\ hill -- circled\ risks\ award -- outhouse|

Section 26: ascent -- winter\ partners -- dynamics\ relationships -- importance of\ friendships\ independence\ expeditions -- invitations\ Dhaulagiri\ Hoeman, Vin\ Nepal\ Boyd Everett\ Hoeman, Vin\ daughter\ marriage\ Anchorage\ lawyers\ doctors|

Section 27: Davidson, Art\ personality -- clash\ object -- ascent\ journal\ conflict -- open\ feelings -- strong\ solo -- attempt\ motivation\ inadequacy\ follower\ doubts\ relaxation\ speed\ Okonek, Brian\ harmony|

Section 28: divorce -- aftermath\ family -- leaving\ New Zealand\ climbing -- selfish\ kids\ mountains\ divorce -- recovery\ Alaska -- return\ money\ dreaming\ Denali Solo\ New Zealand -- training\ Uemura, Naomi -- lost\ Mt. Sanford -- solo\ 1986\ unsupported\ access -- road\ Okonek, Brian\ Okonek, Jim\ cache\ Denali -- South East Fork\ toe -- frozen|

Section 29: radio -- none\ Bridgit -- truss\ sleds\ crevasses\ Sanford -- summit\ Denali -- Windy Corner\ elevation -- 13,200'\ toe -- disappointment\ booties\ stitching -- hand\ socks --none\ snow -- cave\ toe -- black\ frost bite\ skiing\ February\ weather -- good\ trail\ temperature\ wind -- north\ Kahiltna|

Section 30: decision -- easy\ hospital \ skin -- graft\ tropics\ scab\ Fairbanks -- climbers\ style -- reverence\ walk-ins\ reasons -- philosophical\ air -- sickness\ summer -- greenery\ Denali\ Parks Highway\ Waterman, John\ Cook Inlet\ Goran K.?\ bicyclist\ Sweden\ Katmandu\ Everest -- solo\ purist|

Section 31: moments -- crux\ trouble -- serious\ decisions\ resources -- available\ Mt. Foraker -- food\ writing -- skills\ commitment\ climbers -- new\ safety\ food -- supply\ climbing -- style\ partners\ Bocarde, Gary -- neighbor\ Eldridge Glacier\ Wisdom Tooth\ peak bagger\ climbs -- nice\ sleeping\ style -- alpine\ speed\ work|

Section 32: trips -- wonderful\ peaks -- nice\ Alaska -- commitment\ catalyst -- 1963 trip\ country -- bond\ spruce\ topography\ home\ climbing -- conditions\ money\ time\ Anchorage\ Boulder\ climbing -- rocks\ living -- woods\ logging -- snowmachine\ homesteader\ Alaska Range\ travel\ hustle\ traffic -- awful\ North Carolina -- Western\ devotion\ airdrop -- newspaper\ picture -- sheep\ sunny|

Section 33: memories\ Talkeetna, AK -- evolution\ climbers\ climbing, guided -- development\ trip -- family\ dog -- climbing\ Nepal\ Galen\ elevation -- 18,400'\ traverse\ Muldrow -- crevasses\ route -- West Buttress\ fly in \ patience\ route -- long|

Section 34: Denali State Park -- ranger, seasonal\ National Park Service -- presence\ climbing -- management\ restrictions\ rescue\ National Park Service -- parasite, successful\ Miller, Daryl\ Washington\ National Park Service -- responsibility\ visitors -- safety\ Medred -- statistical analysis\ National Park Service -- policy\ organization -- rescue\ Alaska Rescue Group\ fee -- none\ gear -- check\ accidents -- fewer\ climbers -- careful\ airplanes -- cheating\ government -- control, responsibility\ Denali -- commitment|

Section 35: mountains -- surrounding\ unvisited\ ego -- trip\ Denali\ winter\ playground -- personal\ Mt. Silverthrone\ view -- Denali\ Okonek, Brian\ high school -- pictures\ Washburn, Bradford\ Alaska Range -- achievement, extraordinary\ commitment\ Bridwell, Jim\ Stump, Mugs \ Moose's Tooth\ security -- none\ high -- phenomenal\ Waterman, John -- Mt. Hunter\ Hudson, Cliff\ crotch -- itching\ crabs\ ice cream\ crab powder|

Section 36: hang glider\ scope -- 50x\ helicopter\ sunset\ Denali -- silhouette\ summit -- bump\ Denali -- South Face\ air -- slack\ head wind\ fall -- 3,000'\ ride -- fantastic\ Denali -- South East Fork\ Chuvena -- Ruth Glacier, terminus\ Denali -- feelings\ thrill -- climbing\ Okonek, Brian|

Section 37: student -- mentor\ mountaineering -- tricks\ learning\ experiences\ Flattop -- buzz\ racing -- ski\ uphill -- fast\ "Wisdom Tooth" -- night\ light -- beacon\ Talkeetna, AK\ weather -- good\ climbing -- ice\ athlete -- extraordinary\ plan -- Denali, climb\ climbing -- dreams\ winter, 50 state high points\ Mt. Rainier\ Mt. Gannet\ Mt. Granite\ Washington\ Montana\ Wyoming\ Lander, Wyoming\ Miller, Daryl -- girlfriend\ Mt. Russell\ Mt. Huntington\ Moose's Tooth\ Mt. Dickey|

Section 38: Mt. Dickey\ climbing -- snow, steep\ crevasse -- shimmy\ ice -- wall\ easy\ Galen -- rock climbing\ Mt. Fuji -- Japan\ crampons -- first\ summer -- pilgrims, crowded\ woodpeckers -- hairy, downy\ winter -- quiet|