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Diane Okonek

Diane Okonek was interviewed on June 6, 2000 by Dave Krupa at the bunkhouse of Alaska-Denali Guiding in Talkeetna, Alaska. In this interview, Diane shares her love of the mountains and reflects on her experience and philosophy as a guide. She provides a remarkable and detailed description of the "nuts and bolts" of guiding trips on Denali, and of the special human rewards of helping people to safely experience one of the world's premiere alpine environments.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-16

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

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


1) Background information and the move to Alaska

2) Moving to the Talkeetna area and the first trek she took with Brian Okonek

3) Getting married and the opportunity to run a guiding business

4) Her involvement in setting up and maintaining the Medical Research Project's camp at 14,200 feet

5) The philosophy of their business

6) The uniqueness of Denali, getting a feel for a client's experience level, and talking inexperienced climbers out of the climb

7) Accepting a prospective client and the actions taken in preparing that person for the climb

8) Arrival of the clients and activities of the first day

9) The neccessity of waiting and the importance of a good client to guide ratio

10) How she prepares guided groups for the climb

11) The different protocol required of guided expeditions and independent trips

12) How her guided trips acclimatize and problems that can arise

13) A typical climb up to High Camp from 14 Camp

14) Preparing gear and provisions for Summit Day

15) The importance of the descent

16) Comparing the descent from the summit with a guide to descent as an independent climber

17) A normal descent and the scariest experience she has had guiding

18) Why the guides made the right choice to spend the night at 19,000 feet instead of attempting a descent to a safer altitude, and the rewarding moments in the guiding business

19) The preparation that goes into a Denali trip and the disappointment that is always possible

20) How guides are selected and trained

21) The role of CB radios and cell phones in keeping in touch with guided expeditions, and why they do not offer guided trips on innovative routes

22) The skills and strengths neccesary for a traverse of Denali, the National Park Service's role in rescues, and problems with overcrowding and waste disposal on the mountain

23) The problems with trash on the mountain, and the different attitudes toward climbing Denali

24) Activities outside of guiding

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: Santa Barbara, CA\ Goleta, CA\ outdoors - interest\ animals -- interest\ backpacking\ vacations -- family\ family -- size\ father -- photographer\ hiking\ California -- crowded\ traveling\ Alaska -- hitchhiking\ college\ Alaska -- move|

Section 2: backpacking\ climbing\ Kodiak, AK\ canneries -- work\ Fish and Game\ fishing -- commercial\ ocean -- orientation\ Talkeetna, AK -- introduction\ fishwheel -- work\ "Su" station\ salmon\ tag-and-recovery\ Swan Lake\ Alaska Range\ land -- purchase\ cabin -- construction\ Okonek, Brian\ climbing -- training\ climbs -- number\ climbs -- first\ trip -- winter\ skiing -- cross country\ cabin\ Tokositna Glacier\ Ruth Glacier\ temperature -- cold\ Denali expeditions -- assisting|

Section 3: climbing\ trekking\ guiding\ Okonek, Brian\ marriage\ travel -- plans\ permit -- transfer\ business -- opportunity\ Talkeetna, AK\ guiding -- experience\ plans -- change\ honeymoon\ New Zealand\ bike touring\ Denali -- first season\ Medical Research Project\ Dr. Mills\ Hackett, Peter|

Section 4: medical research project\ logistics -- camp\ expedition -- organization\ 14 camp\ doctors -- number\ research -- medical\ food\ tents\ solar panels\ camp -- management\ Okonek, Brian\ altitude -- acclimitization\ National Park Service\ Search and Rescue\ climbers\ rescue -- expectations\ rescues -- involvement\ altitude sickness\ Orient Express\ Hackett, Peter|

Section 5: guiding\ trip planning\ guiding -- philosophy\ business\ clients -- teaching\ clients -- experience level\ climbing -- techniques\ Denali -- uniqueness\ decision -- making\ sleds -- pulling\ fixed lines\ decisions -- safe\ clients -- participation\ cooking\ snow walls -- digging\ tents -- setting up|

Section 6: Denali -- uniqueness\ cold\ altitude\ trip -- duration\ Mt. Rainier\ discomfort -- coping\ challenge -- mental\ altitude -- body reaction\ altitude -- differences\ information -- sending\ client -- experience\ winter camping\ back packing -- extended\ gear -- carrying\ climbing -- multi-day\ ice climbing\ snow climbing\ rope -- travel\ crampons\ ice axe\ cold -- coping\ cold -- challenge|

Section 7: intuition -- role\ itinerary -- detailed\ list -- reading\ training\ Denali -- history\ knots\ list -- equipment\ meals -- explanation\ medical release\ stability -- physical\ stability -- mental\ forms -- Acknowledgment of Risk\ forms -- Policy\ guides -- final decision\ accommodations -- logistics\ communication -- client\ equipment -- review\ training -- climbing\ Denali -- commitment\ clients -- encouragement|

Section 8: Anchorage, AK -- fly in\ Talkeetna, AK\ team members -- meeting\ guides -- meeting\ equipment check\ lunches -- packing\ National Park Service -- orientation\ fee payment\ ascending lines\ harness check\ ice axes -- safety sling\ sled -- hitch\ risk -- discussion\ forms -- Acknowledgement of Risk\ forms -- medical\ rentals\ Talkeetna, AK -- accomodations|

Section 9: weather\ life -- control\ people -- corporate\ patience\ time -- window\ climbing\ storms -- high camp\ food -- supply\ groups -- guided\ acclimatization\ expedition\ West Buttress\ climb -- standard\ flying -- trips\ airplane -- Cessna 185\ airplane -- Beaver\ trip -- full\ ratio -- guide to client\ National Park Service -- regulations|

Section 10: problems -- altitude\ guide -- descent\ tents -- number\ safety\ rope teams\ basecamp -- arrival\ crevasse -- ascent\ Z-pulley -- systems\ techniques -- review\ teams -- confidence\ climbing\ trust\ competence|

Section 11: rope team -- guide\ clients\ scenarios -- different\ climbs guided\ expedition -- regular\ relationship\ protocol -- different\ National Park Service\ companies -- guiding\ expectations\ ropes\ glacier -- travel\ accidents\ death\ techniques -- poor\ crevasses|

Section 12: teams -- guided\ warnings -- trouble\ basecamp -- orientation\ camps\ loads -- relay\ backpacks\ sleds -- red\ cache -- carry\ sleep -- low\ carry -- high\ acclimatizing\ carries -- single\ gear -- community\ stove\ food\ fuel\ kit -- cooking\ altitude -- effects\ lungs -- rails\ headaches\ lethargy\ symptoms\ red-alert|

Section 13: descent\ Windy Corner -- cache\ fixed line -- carry\ rest day -- 14.2\ circumstances -- individuals\ acclimatization\ altitude -- 16,200'\ qualities -- organization\ camp -- airy\ ridge -- edge\ fixed lines\ snowcave\ 17,200' -- High Camp\ team\ rest day\ summit -- decision\ weather -- good\ factor -- weather\ factor -- feeling|

Section 14: provisions -- camping\ gear -- survival\ summit\ overpants\ parka\ mitts\ handwarmers -- chemical\ stove\ fuel\ snow saws\ spade -- steel\ sleeping bags\ pads\ hats -- layers\ gloves\ goggles\ food\ thermoses -- freezing\ water bottles\ packs -- weight\ summit day\ hazards\ pace -- slow\ altitude\ weather\ team\ temperature|

Section 15: summit -- descent\ attention -- lapses\ guides\ clients\ preparation\ trip -- focus\ Denali -- experience\ goal -- summit\ safety\ will power\ oxygen -- lack\ body\ mental -- drive\ energy\ summit day\ summit -- halfway point\ guides -- special\ people -- driven\ reserves|

Section 16: summit\ guides -- decision\ situation -- bad\ descent -- fatigue\ accidents\ traverse\ Denali Pass\ altitude\ high camp\ exposure\ judgement\ climbers -- independent\ ski poles\ ice axe\ ropes\ fixed lines\ climbing -- technical\ exhaustion\ crampon\ sliding\ injury\ death\ descent -- serious|

Section 17: plan -- 17 camp\ rehydration\ meal\ sleep\ descent\ team -- strength\ weather\ guides -- decision\ stoves\ dinner\ camp\ 11 camp\ basecamp\ moments -- scary\ planning\ altitude\ responses -- unpredictable\ guiding -- career\ weather -- bad\ wind -- extreme\ camp -- 19,000'\ high camp\ Denali Pass\ guides\ frost bite\ evacuation -- flight|

Section 18: decision -- stop\ wind\ hypothermia\ igloo\ snow -- consistency\ snow cave\ guides\ night -- outside\ frostbite -- hands\ descent\ survival\ clients -- capable\ guides -- incredible\ shelter\ spade -- steel\ snow saws\ pots\ stoves\ sleeping bags\ pads\ gear -- survival\ moment -- rewarding\ letters|

Section 19: clients -- numbers\ experience -- unique\ environment -- intense\ ropes\ camp -- probed\ altitude -- effects\ experience -- incredible\ decision -- difficult\ descent\ guide\ Denali\ energy -- output\ understanding\ dream\ work -- experience\ training\ work\ families\ disappointment\ safety\ team\ individual\ ability -- leave\ preparation\ risk|

Section 20: guides -- number\ summer\ screening -- process\ guide -- Denali\ individual -- unique\ qualities\ work -- stressful\ mountaineering -- background\ apprenticeship\ chief guide\ qualities -- personality\ charisma\ environment -- dangerous\ judgement\ assistant\ ability -- development\ clients -- ability\ expectations\ communication\ situations -- stress\ decisions\ counseling\ organization -- logistics|

Section 21: responsibility\ trip -- duration\ time -- personal\ rest -- none\ coughing\ occupation -- intensity\ Talkeetna, AK\ communication -- CB radio\ cell phones\ batteries\ emergencies\ Bradley, Tyson  -- guide\ routes, guiding\ route -- innovative\ West Buttress\ Denali Traverse\ Wonder Lake\ West Rib\ niches\ group -- guided\ routes -- harder\ risk\ Cassin Ridge|

Section 22: skills -- different\ traverse\ West Buttress\ experience\ strength\ packs -- heavy\ cache\ terrain -- steep\ Karstens Ridge\ balance\ exposure\ National Park Service -- administration\ rapport -- good\ change\ staff -- winter\ supervisor\ center -- mountaineering\ transition\ helicopter -- on call\ Anchorage, AK\ Air Force\ opinions -- mixed\ efficiency\ job -- difficult\ situations -- rescue\ decisions\ descent\ walking\ assistance\ development\ dependency\ people -- number\ problems -- monitoring\ overcrowding\ trash|

Section 23: mountain -- access\ trash -- control\ responsibility -- personal\ garbage\ climbers\ mountain -- beautiful\ people -- problems\ monitoring\ countries\ cultures\ languages\ attitude\ mentality\ Americans\ Europeans\ goals\ adventures\ climbing -- concept\ Denali\ Mongolia\ horses\ summit\ effort\ safety|

Section 24: travel -- Alaska\ travel --world\ Alaska -- beauty\ travel -- dogs\ skijoring\ dog teams\ travel -- enjoyment|