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Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Mark Twight

Mark Twight was interviewed on July 1, 2000 by Dave Krupa at the National Park Service Ranger Station in Talkeetna, Alaska. In this interview, Mark describes his climbing philosophy and technique of "extreme alpinism" in an intriguing account of how he and partners Steve House and Scott Backes climbed the Czech (Slovak) Direct Route in about 60 hours of continuous climbing. Mark also describes the special challenges of Alaskan climbing and psychological effects of extreme alpinism. He takes us into that eerie realm of extremity, fatigue, and total commitment that can lead to tragedy or transcendance, a distinction as fragile as a front-point on blue ice.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-21

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jul 1, 2000
Narrator(s): Mark Twight
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
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1) Growing up with a father who was a park ranger

2) How and where he learned his climbing techniques and tastes

3) His first Alaskan climbing experiences

4) An explanation of his philosophy of "extreme alpinism"

5) Planning an alpine ascent up the Czech Direct Route on Denali

6) His "light, fast" trip up Denali and acclimatizing

7) Preliminary logistical preparation for the Czech Direct route

8) Physical and mental preparation for the climb and an unexpected rescue

9) The psychological benefits of the rescue effort for Twight's team

10) Weather and fuel considerations

11) The effect of biorhythms during a nonstop climb and the benefits of a three person team

12) Sleeping on belay and choosing the wrong direction

13) The process of deciding which direction to choose

14) The psychological effects of climbing for so long

15) The psychological considerations of climbing in the Alaska Range

16) The trade-offs of climbing in the Alaska Range

17) Choosing a route for a light, fast, climb just to the right of the Moonflower Route

18) The selection of climbing tactics appropriate to the terrain at hand

19) His objection to the arbitrary choice of the summit as the goal of a climb

20) The feeling of trust he had with his climbing partner

21) Being greeted by friends at the end of a long journey

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Section 1: Twight -- father\ park ranger\ National Park Service\ Yosemite National Park\ Mount Rainier National Park\ Seattle, WA\ ranger -- interpretive\ ranger -- cop\ law -- enforcement\ climbers\ Yosemite National Park -- Camp 4\ bureaucracy\ teaching\ outdoors|

Section 2: Seattle\ Cascade Mountains\ mountains -- dead end\ climbing -- Europe\ Mont Blanc\ mountains -- size\ climbing -- ice\ climbing -- rock\ volcanoes -- Cascades\ Alaska Range\ Alps -- learning\ Chamonix, France\ access -- airplane\ expedition\ West Buttress\ camping -- winter\ fuel -- white gas|

Section 3: Alaska -- first experience\ Ham and Eggs Couloir\ Moose's Tooth -- South Face\ base camp\ Ruth Glacier -- West Fork\ skiing\ Rooster's Comb -- North Buttress\ Mt. Huntington -- Colton Leach Route\ climbing -- aid\ sling\ tent\ Lee, Don\ Alps\ routes -- speed\ gear -- minimal\ Cascade Mountains\ Himalayas\ Europe\ Alaska Range\ Mt. Hunter|

Section 4: climbing -- fast\ Chouinard, Yvon -- Climbing Ice\ efficiency\ resources -- physical\ resources -- mental\ resources -- technological\ routes\ gear\ book\ Mt. McKinley\ Talkeetna, AK\ fit -- physically\ weather -- windows\ conditions -- good\ Mt. Hunter -- new route\ time -- efficiency|

Section 5: climbing\ Mt. Hunter\ sleeping bags\ Denali\ route -- Czech Direct\ jacket\ snow -- melt\ technical difficulty\ ice field\ ledge -- chop\ strategy\ House, Steve\ logistics -- preparation\ Kahiltna Glacier -- East Fork\ skis -- cache|

Section 6: climbing -- light, fast\ Roderick, Paul\ Talkeetna Air Taxi\ gear\ jackets\ stoves\ skis\ tents\ sleeping bags\ Mount Crosson\ Kahiltna Glacier -- East Fork\ Denali -- South Face\ West Buttress\ acclimatize\ weather -- wait\ poles\ fuel\ food\ Mt. McKinley\ Football Field\ 14 camp\ airstrip\ pack\ mountains -- moving\ climbing -- expedition style|

Section 7: Czech Direct Route\ House, Steve\ mountain\ route\ Kahiltna Glacier -- East Fork\ Backes, Scott\ South Face -- base\ camp\ pictures\ airplane\ map -- topography\ ropes -- short\ pitches|

Section 8: expedition -- Alaskan\ preparation\ bergschrund\ pitches\ ice field\ Kahiltna Glacier -- East Fork\ Big Bertha -- serac\ headwall\ ski\ Backes, Scott\ House, Steve\ airstrip\ West Buttress\ summit\ Robinson, Roger\ rescue\ Minnesota|

Section 9: Riechert, Joe\ parajumpers\ New Zealand\ Athans, Pete\ reinforcement -- psychological\ Denali -- summit\ Czech Direct\ crevasses\ Cassin\ weather -- good\ acclimatization\ route -- break-up\ Kahiltna Glacier -- East Fork\ South Face -- base\ rest day\ ski|

Section 10: route\ climbing\ projections\ food\ fuel\ rack\ comprehension\ weather -- forecast\ radio\ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration\ acclimatization\ summit\ Roderick, Paul\ Talkeetna Air Taxi\ beer\ jackets\ overboots\ stoves\ fuel\ water|

Section 11: gear -- minimum\ ice tool\ cams\ ice screws\ climbing -- nonstop\ territory -- new\ failure -- psychological\ biorhythms\ climbing\ partners -- polarized\ Backes, Scott\ House, Steve\ safety -- margin\ team -- strength\ belay -- sleep\ pack|

Section 12: House, Steve\ belay -- sleep\ Mt. Robson\ route\ ice field\ ice -- black\ crampons\ dehydration\ visibility -- bad\ picture\ headwall -- base\ climbers -- Czech\ direction -- errors|

Section 13: ice field\ photograph\ map -- topographical\ Cassin\ eating\ drinking\ Big Bertha -- serac\ rappel -- sideways\ climbing -- mixed\ serac -- face\ serac -- calving\ Backes, Scott\ House, Steve\ wind -- spindrift\ rock -- overhanging\ fuel\ pitch|

Section 14: route\ fail\ Cassin\ descent\ psychological -- powerful\ brain -- open\ fear\ resignation\ panic\ climbing -- style|

Section 15: Alaska\ climbing\ psychological depths\ Alaska Range\ Mt. McKinley -- summit\ airstrip\ Talkeetna, AK\ airplane\ skiplane -- access\ House, Steve\ Blitz, Jonny\ Ruth Glacier\ climber -- Japanese\ food\ fuel\ wolverines\ preparation -- psychological\ cragging\ Mt. Hunter\ Czech Direct|

Section 16: brain -- capacities\ acclimatization\ climbing -- style\ route\ sun -- light\ head lamp\ darkness\ cold\ Backes, Scott\ Mt. Hunter -- new route\ Alps\ Mont Blanc -- massif\ Alaska\ style -- light, fast\ Metcalf, Peter\ Mt. Hunter -- South or Southeast Spur\ ?, Glen\ Talkeetna, AK\ food\ fuel\ airstrip|

Section 17: Kennedy, Michael\ Child, Greg\ Moonflower Route\ glacier\ climbing -- style\ route -- fail\ technical difficulty\ pack\ terrain -- moderate\ Wall of Shadows\ gear\ tactics\ Yosemite -- big wall\ mountains -- movement|

Section 18: rock band\ terrain\ tactics\ gear\ route\ packing\ rack\ fuel\ sleeping bag\ bivy sac\ bivouac\ packs\ glacier\ Stump, Mugs|

Section 19: climbing -- style\ safety -- margin\ summit\ gear\ problems -- resolution\ rappelling\ weather\ climbing -- speed\ elevation -- gain\ rock band\ ledges -- chopping\ North Buttress\ temperature -- cold\ ice screws\ carabiners\ cams|

Section 20: North Buttress\ dinner\ sleeping bags\ Backes, Scott\ seracs\ gear\ mistakes\ trust\ summit pyramid\ clouds -- lenticular\ Denali\ bergschrund\ traverse\ West Ridge\ ice climbing\ slush\ blue ice\ experience -- psychological\ Alaska Range|

Section 21: West Ridge\ North West Basin\ route -- description\ walkie-talkie\ basecamp\ Massioli?, Steve\ rappel\ seracs\ fuel -- white gas\ glacier\ Backes, Scott\ Kennedy, Michael\ Child, Greg\ Wiley, Ken\ Josephson, Joe\ skis\ skins\ posthole\ thermos\ friends -- greeting\ journey -- end|