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Paul Denkewalter

Paul Denkewalter was interviewed on July 6, 2000 by Dave Krupa at the Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking store in Anchorage, Alaska. In this interview, Paul talks about his experiences climbing in the Alaska Range, including on Denali. Paul's intensity and grace shows through in this interview as he shares stories of climbing some of the most challenging routes in Alaska in the company of other eminent Alaska mountaineers. He gives us an insider's view of climbers, group dynamics, and the changes in mountaineering technology that have helped climbers to reach higher and go farther.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-22

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jul 6, 2000
Narrator(s): Paul Denkewalter
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1) Background information and how he and his family ended up in Alaska

2) Mood, character, and circumstances of his first Denali trip with his father

3) Early concessionaires and the style and equipment used

4) His awe of Denali and the ease of the first trip

5) Learning about physiological conditions at high altitude and his first job in Alaska

6) Starting a climbing store and getting into winter climbing with his friends

7) Climbing Mount. Hunter in the winter using the Lowe-Kennedy route and rudimentary equipment

8) Summiting Mount Hunter in the winter

9) Winter attempt to climb the Moose's Tooth to the West Summit in very cold conditions

10) Digging a tunnel in the ridge for protection and learning to deal with winter climbing conditions

11) His experience with bunny boots and meeting Reinhold Messner

12) His experiences with frostbite, group dynamics, and decision making

13) Climbing with less experienced climbers and coordinating winter climbs

14) His preference for down over synthetic materials for clothing

15) The most important component of climbing relationships is trust

16) The use of an individual's ability and a discouraging attempt of Mount Huntington

17) Great climbs in Alaska other than Denali

18) The rock condition on the Ruth Glacier and Little Switzerland

19) The end of his climbing career, and the improvement in tools for ice climbing

20) Necessity facilitating new inventions in gear and climbers' dependability on equipment

21) His philosophy of looking to the examples of pure climbers and explorers

22) The different reasons that people are involved in climbing

23) People's excitement for climbing and the meaninglessness of first ascents

24) The physical and emotional risks of climbing

25) Dealing with death in the climbing community of Anchorage

26) People's true motivations behind backcountry travel, and the use of long distance communication equipment

27) The impact of the possibility of rescue on the sport of climbing

28) Living in Alaska

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: parents -- Chicago\ New Jersey\ high school -- New York\ Boston College\ backcountry travel -- Vermont\ climbing -- introduction\ Mt. Everest -- British expedition\ Grand Teton\ sport rappelling\ Vermont -- Mt. Washington\ Africa -- Kilimanjaro\ Africa -- Mt. Kenya\ Denali\ climbers -- French\ Soudain, Sylvan\ climbers -- Arizona\ climbers -- Spaniards\ climbers -- Japanese\ summit -- Denali\ law school\ moving -- Alaska\ Talkeetna -- bush pilots|

Section 2: family -- climbing\ Glenn Exum's Mountaineering School\ rappelling\ peak bagging\ New Hampshire -- Presidential Range\ New York\ Green Mountains\ Wyoming -- Teton's\ Mountain Travel -- San Francisco\ Blanchard, Smoke\ glacier\ West Buttress\ Anchorage\ Alps\ Kahiltna Glacier\ basecamp -- character\ Sheldon, Don\ fixed lines|

Section 3: guiding concessions -- official\ Genet, Ray\ mountain travel -- permit\ Bocarde, Gary -- mountain trip\ adventure travel\ crampons --10 point\ wool\ frame pack -- camp trails\ Talkeetna\ garbage cans -- stabilize\ sleds\ snowshoes -- wood\ boots -- Lowett Triplek\ overboots -- uninsulated\ tents -- pyramid\ sleeping bags -- down\ stoves -- Optimus 3B|

Section 4: food -- freeze-dried\ coffee\ snowfields\ glaciers\ fear\ crevasses\ Kahiltna Glacier\ Blanchard, Smoke\ climbers\ security -- ignorance\ altitude sickness\ climbing speed|

Section 5: Hackett, Peter -- high altitude physiology\ dehydration\ digestion -- high altitude\ Blanchard, Smoke\ Europeans\ Boston\ law school\ Alaska\ Wasilla -- Teelan's Store\ pipeline\ Daily News -- paper delivery|

Section 6: climbing gear -- store\ climbing -- peaks\ Chugach\ Kenai\ Redmond, Earl -- Fairbanks\ winter climbing\ bivouac\ Bocarde, Gary -- guiding business\ West Buttress\ Mt. Hunter \ Hudson, Cliff\ Tejas, Vern\ Parker, Nick\ frostbite\ dehydration\ route -- Lowe-Kennedy\ approach\ Kahiltna Glacier|

Section 7: report -- Lowe-Kennedy\ rock ledge -- bivouac\ boots -- plastic\ randonée boots -- Messner\ overboots -- neoprene\ Okonek, Brian\ Mt. Deborah\ socks -- neoprene\ crampons -- 12 point\ ice axe\ hammer\ ice -- hard\ ice -- pressure cracks\ Bocarde, Gary\ Tejas, Vern\ top rope|

Section 8: bivouac\ pickets\ temperature -- cold\ weather -- good\ Mushroom Bridge\ Porter, Charlie\ The Shield -- first ascent\ Moose's Tooth|

Section 9: winter climbing -- Chugach\ winter climbing -- Moose's Tooth\ Porter, Charlie\ Bocarde, Gary\ Talkeetna, AK\ Ruth Glacier\ West Summit\ belaying -- freezing\ weather -- cold\ Buckskin Glacier\ cornice -- fall|

Section 10: ridge\ tunnel\ West Summit\ basecamp\ temperature -- cold\ tent -- ripped\ winter climbing -- different\ routes -- easier\ food -- calories\ hydration\ feet -- protection\ snow caves\ igloo|

Section 11: tents -- useless\ Mt. Hunter\ Johnston, Dave\ bunny boots\ Okonek, Brian\ Moose's Tooth\ Messner, Reinhold\ Porter, Charlie\ Cassin -- solo ascent\ boots -- Glibier\ Italy -- Sudrow\ Nagna Parbat|

Section 12: frostbite -- toes\ bivouac\ boots -- frozen\ Mushroom Ridge\ rappel\ Tejas, Vern\ Bocarde, Gary\ bunny boots\ Mills, Dr.\ Moose's Tooth\ wind tunnel\ hypothermia|

Section 13: climbing partners\ preparation -- mental\ carabiners\ figure eights\ mistakes -- cold weather\ moon cycle -- coordination\ Alaska -- Southcentral\ conditions -- monthly\ winter -- daylight\ winter climb\ Redmond, Earl\ Mt. Drummond|

Section 14: sleeping bag -- down\ sea kayaking\ Bocarde, Gary\ sleeping bag -- polarguard\ pack -- internal frame\ sleeping bag -- compressibility\ Gore-Tex -- icing\ Ruth Glacier\ bivouac\ pants -- down\ jacket -- down\ bivouac sac -- heat loss|

Section 15: climbing teams -- trust\ Bocarde, Gary\ success -- blinded\ relationships -- development\ Tejas, Vern\ route -- Lowe-Kennedy\ belaying\ climbing partners -- personality\ Louis, Ned|

Section 16: trust\ ability\ climbing group -- size\ Mt. Huntington \ snow conditions\ Parker, Nick\ avalanche -- courses\ Tokositna Glacier \ climbs -- discouraging\ basecamp\ Bocarde, Gary\ crevasses|

Section 17: Mt. Bona -- Wrangell Mountains\ snow caves\ igloo\ Mt. Huntington -- north\ alpine climbing\ Denali\ Mt. Foraker \ Mt. Hunter\ Little Switzerland\ Covington, Michael\ Kahiltna\ Ruth Glacier -- peaks\ Elevator Shaft -- Mt. Johnson\ picket\ rescue\ summit ridge\ Parker, Nick|

Section 18: Mt. Johnson\ Ruth glacier\ rock -- condition\ Ruth glacier -- peaks\ Stump, Mugs\ Little Switzerland\ Kahiltna Glacier\ cracks -- debris\ Bocarde, Gary\ Yosemite National Park\ Alaska Range\ alpine climbing -- classes|

Section 19: climbing -- termination\ winter climbs\ summer climbs\ alpine climbs\ rock -- Chugach Mountains\ rock -- Talkeetna, AK\ peak bagging\ crampons -- 12 point\ ice climbing\ ice tools\ ropes\ harnesses\ ice screws\ ice -- chandeliered\ Valdez, AK\ camming device\ Cathedral Spire|

Section 20: gear -- changes\ crampons -- 12 point\ Scotts\ tools -- pterodactyls\ Chouinard, Yvon\ invention -- necessity\ glacier\ axe\ Denali-itis\ Messner, Reinhold\ equipment -- dependability|

Section 21: equipment -- failure\ explorers -- Antarctic\ Lewis and Clark -- preparation\ mountaineers -- seasoned\ climbing -- drugs\ climbing -- crutches\ pure climbing -- Messner|

Section 22: notoriety -- drive\ paid -- firms\ gear -- changes\ long underwear -- synthetic\ REI\ physiology -- knowledge\ climbers -- Alaska\ checklisters|

Section 23: skis -- cross-country\ sea kayaking\ route -- Lowe-Kennedy\ first ascents -- motivation\ Chugach Mountains\ Cathedral Spires\ Kahiltna Glacier\ Little Switzerland\ Wrangell Mountains|

Section 24: Moose's Tooth\ emotions -- anger\ Rooster's Comb -- avalanche\ climbing community\ risks -- minimizing\ sports -- unforgiving\ Stump, Mugs\ ice bridge|

Section 25: Polki, Dave -- brother\ Carpathian\ Portage Glacier\ mountaineer\ Mt. Bona\ sleeping bag -- broken\ death\ Terray, Lionel\ Stumps, Mugs\ Donne, John\ death -- rebound\ Anchorage, AK\ climbers -- new blood|

Section 26: death -- risk\ climbing -- memories\ Bradford, Jeff\ Chugach Mountains\ dying -- innocuous\ conditions\ flying\ fishing\ Alaska -- remoteness\ radios\ cell phones|

Section 27: rescue -- possibility\ Yosemite National Park\ Mallory, George\ Irvine, Andrew\ experiences -- wild\ mistakes\ basecamp\ climbing -- cautious\ rescues -- Park Service\ climbing -- prostituting\ climbing -- cleansing|

Section 28: Brooks Range\ bears\ climbing -- ability\ rescues -- GPS\ sports -- changing\ Alaska\ Portage Glacier\ eagles\ moose\ salmon\ Hatcher Pass\ travel|