In Memoriam, Mike Moore

I had a friend who drank too much
and played too much guitar – 
and we sure got along. 
Reel-to-reels rolled across the country near and far 
with letters poems and songs…. 
but these days he don’t talk to me 
and he won’t tell me why. 
I miss him every time i say his name. 
I don’t know what he’s doing 
or why our friendship died
while we played the poet game.
– Greg Brown, ‘The Poet Game’

 

“Why Mountain Gazette? Why not?”

That’s the way Mike Moore introduced the first issue of a new magazine “generally about the mountains” in the fall of 1972. Exactly what Moore had in mind, no one really knew.

For example,  here’s Barry Corbet, a noted mountaineer, skier and filmmaker in the 60s and 70s, sounding puzzled: “I have in hand a letter from Mike Moore, editor and manager of this journal. My assignment, should I choose to accept it, is to write ‘from one to sixteen pages about the mountains….’”

He accepted the assignment, of course, as we all did, all the writers who got that letter—Moore’s stable, writers living above 8,000 feet elevation if only in spirit. Mountain Gazette. Why not?

Now, it’s a long way from 1972, and word just came in a roundabout way that Moore died November 20, in Vermont where he has lived most of the past quarter century. This is not an obituary—he wanted none of that: no funeral, no memorial, no eulogies, said the notice making the rounds. Okay, but he can’t stop old friends, old loves from remembering him. Trying to re-member (sic) him through what he brought to our lives in what was the relatively brief but very intense first five years of the Mountain Gazette.

The Mountain Gazette wasn’t actually a startup; it was an acceleration or expansion, or maybe a digression, from another magazine, Skiers’ Gazette, that had entered the field of ski journalism in 1966, a newsprint gadfly journal that was the Village Voice to the ski industry’s array of earnest four-color Wall Street Journals (the romance of ski capitalism).

I became part of Moore’s SG stable of writers while I was running the Crested Butte Chronicle in the Colorado resort town of same name. He occasionally reprinted something I’d written in my gadfly newspaper; and when I left the newspaper business, where the ratio of business to writing was too high, to try to pursue a career freelancing, he offered me a chance to write a column for the SG.

That was great: I invented a mythic ski town, and over the course of that winter unloaded half a decade of observations that would have lost me all the Chronicle advertisers I hadn’t already lost. Moore made sure we writers didn’t worry about the impact of our biting of the hands of the advertisers that fed the SG and our meagre checks; still, we might have hypothesized that Moore’s motivation for expanding the Skiers’ Gazette to the Mountain Gazette was a need for access to a larger body of advertisers to offend.

But that was not Moore’s motive; he wanted to find, nurture and give voice to the 20th-century literature of the mountains, and the strange post-urban cultures springing up in the mountain towns like new mushroom species. Skiers’ Gazette had made him aware that there were lots of articulate and over-educated misfits, malcontents and de facto expatriates slinking around the mountain towns and beyond, trying to piss a line in the snow—dirtbag hippies, burnt-out suburbanites going exurban, lawyers undergoing a Saul-Paul transformation, Lord Jims in orderly retreat, all of whom knew, sort of, what Robinson Jeffers was trying to say: “When the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.” He wasn’t beating the underbrush of the mountain valleys for advertisers but for writers, whom he could lead, push or otherwise nurture or seduce to some greater level…. He didn’t want to just do a Village Voice for the mountain regions; he wanted to do a high-altitude New Yorker: the socio-economo-politico-cultural voice of a place and a time whose writers he believed might have something interesting to say.

Paradoxically, Moore was not a “mountain person” himself. He grew up in Colorado’s Front Range cities— cities that are to the mountains what Boston and San Francisco are to the ocean. He didn’t ski, didn’t climb, didn’t even hike much except on golf courses with a mountain view. As MG editor he mostly came to the mountains to visit his stable of mountain writers, visits that seldom moved beyond the bars of those places.

And by extension, the exemplars he carried in his heart were—I think—the great urban editors and publishers of the mid-20th century – people like Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, the man who “found” and brought to full bloom Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Erskine Caldwell, James Jones and others. That was what Moore wanted to do, the life he wanted to live.

I was lucky enough to make it onto the short list in his stable—those not just called but those maybe chosen, after a little serious work and tuning. He was the kind of editor who edited from the front, pre-manuscript, as well as what he called “pissing in the manuscript” after it was in. This often involved 12-to-7 “working lunches” for throwing ideas around that got better as the afternoon deteriorated, in the event that either he or the writer was capable of remembering the ideas – especially since the working lunch usually deteriorated further into just going out and overindulging for the rest of the evening. Moore also worked the phones with writers – and being an insomniac himself, a 3 a.m. call was not unusual.

But most of Moore’s interaction—at least with this writer—came in letters, those things we used for communication before email. I have a whole file drawer of letters from him—and I wrote as many to him. I reread the folder of his letters from the Gazette years the weekend after he died, and some of them would begin, “Responding to your two letters from last week….” What were these letters about? Well, about one to sixteen pages. They might be about a piece I was working on, or he wished I was working on; but they were also ongoing conversations about things he’d read or I’d read or we’d both read (it was Spengler for quite a while), discourses on what was happening in our lives, and –… But that sounds so damn – literary.

I need to downshift and get honest here about re-membering Moore. The letters, the long meetings were a love affair, is what they really were: we were both in love with my potential. That sounds terribly egomaniacal, but I think it is true, and the affair was conducted through this mad blizzard of letters about writing, with a focus on my writing. There was nothing sexual about this love affair – but something he said in one letter about his sex life kind of explains something about his relationship with the writers he worked with.

He said that he took a lot of his self-identity from the woman’s physical satisfaction—“She comes; therefore I am,” was how he put it. So it was with us: if, with his suggestions, support, critique, wheedling, stimulating and stroking, we might finally write something generally about mountains (and what isn’t?) that communicated a little Wright-Brothers-type hopping flight of the soul—then he existed too. I knew of course that he was profligately twelve-timing me with all the other Gazette writers; we all knew that, and jealousy occasionally intruded, but basically we loved him back as profligately: our Max Perkins, shepherd, custodian, editor, lover-of-our-potential.

If you were one of his short-list writers, he would—eventually—publish just about anything you sent him. Even in complete disregard of the “one to sixteen page” parameter stated in that first letter. Between stages in my own life in the summer of 1975, I cranked out a 90-page manuscript in a two-week burst of desperate something-or-other—in many respects, just a longer letter to Moore, but more generally about mountains. I sent it to Moore, with a letter asking him to see if there were any salvageable fragments in it, anything to take out and work up; “I can’t imagine what you could do with the whole mess,” I concluded.

I got a letter back a few days later that began, “We’ll print it, of course; we just have to figure out how and why”—then went into a description of how he had alarmed patrons at the bar where he went to read it, with noisy outbursts of laughter, backtalk, and other manifestations of his tendency to be a very active reader…. We define love too narrowly, too pedestrianly, if it can’t include this – not just “brotherly love,” but loverly love, a kind of shared intimacy involving mutual penetration of each other’s minds and hearts, and the kind of trust that enables that.

Eventually that outpouring became the final part of a four-part series that involved a lot of back-and-forth calls and letters, a couple emergency work days in Denver, and some serious stress on both of us. When done it occupied more than 50 pages of the magazine over four months, and was very well received in the mountain world. For us: how was it for you, did you…? Yes, the peak intensity, climax of our love affair with my potential, through which his potential was realized. We came together on it; therefore we were.

He thought the “Part of a Winter” series should become a book, and started calling in or begging favors from every big leaguer he had ever encountered in the rarified realm of New York publishing. But this was also a time when he was going through a lot of personal trauma—a failing marriage, financial troubles at the magazine, a lot of heavy drinking and the indiscriminate bestowing of random female orgasms. I got a contract eventually, with what turned out to be the wrong publisher—my fault, not Moore’s.

And not long after that, in 1976, Moore left the Mountain Gazette and Denver, to set off on an extended tour of Europe with his family in what even he could see was predestined to be a futile effort to salvage the marriage. The book was edited by a young woman in New York who knew commas but didn’t know what either she or I were doing; suffice it to say that Part of a Winter wasn’t the Look Homeward, Angel or Farewell to Arms that Moore had made us both believe it could be, in the intensity of our affair.

We continued to write letters for a number of years after he left the Gazette, but with increasing infrequency, while he went through a number of editing jobs, and eventually a partnership in a Vermont publishing house. Finally, he stopped writing entirely—not just to me, his partner told me, but to everyone from his “former life”. For almost two decades I heard nothing from him, until out of the blue he called one afternoon a year or so ago—“to say goodbye”: he’d received his death sentence from the doctors.

Well, no eulogy then, Moore, per your instructions, no obit, just this effort to re-member you in my life, keep you a member in my life, and remember how you changed my life, for better or worse. I think we both eventually realized that I lack something—the ego, discipline, drive—to really realize fully whatever potential I have or had in the running for the Next Great American Writer, and that may be why you stopped writing letters. But I thank you from whatever depths I have for your seemingly boundless love for us all during those first intense and exciting Mountain Gazette years, which like all love is given, just given, and not for what we are but for what we might become. Unsustainable, love like that, but how gray life would be without ever having had it.          —George Sibley

Mountain Passages—Why Are the Limes in My Margarita Brown?

In this life there are some risks worth taking and there are some risks to be avoided. It is only by careful analysis and investigation that these risks can be properly evaluated.

It is a fine spring day and to celebrate the season I sit down at a well-worn stool in my favorite mountain bar and order a Margarita, without salt.

Gunner, my regular barkeep, slides a frosty glass at me with a couple of wedges of lime that have brown spots all over them. I pick-out the lime wedges and on closer examination, the brown is probably some sort of rot. I carefully squeeze the juice out of them and put the limes aside.

The ‘rita is fine, it will head me in the direction I want to go.

The next time Gunner comes by I ask, “So how did you manage to get brown spots on the limes?”

“Whut?” he asks. Gunner has a GI Bill degree from CU in something esoteric like that odd place between physics and biology, so he’s not as dumb as he pretends to be, but I think he reads lips because he doesn’t hear worth a damn. He also says “Whut?” when he doesn’t have a smart-assed response to a question. He claims that it gives him time to think.

The bar isn’t crowded. Gunner is thinking.

“The brown spots on the limes Gunner? Where did they come from?”

Gunner looks at me like he probably looks at anyone who tracks mud into his bar or leaves the door open to the just marginal John. He avoids the question by reaching for a bottle of whiskey with a long silver cap on it and a really odd label.

He plunks two shot glasses down on the bar and pours Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.

We make eye contact and he says, “Gunships.”

We click the glasses and I say, “Welcome Home.”

We smile—a grunt and a draft-dodger can be friends.

“About those gnarly-looking limes?”

Gunner was a crew chief and door-gunner for two tours. His methods of handling adversity have significantly improved since then. He moves over real close and sort of whispers to me, “They coulda come from the bottom of the garnish tray.”

“The what?” I ask.

“The garnish tray, that thing on the bar where we keep the fruit and olives for drinks. The thing with the plastic top on it.”

“So let me see if I’ve got this right. My limes had brown spots on them because they spent too much time in the garnish tray?”

“Yeah, that’s possible, look, after last call I put it in the fridge,” he says sort of apologetically.

“Great, so the garnish tray comes out for first shift at about 11 AM, sits on the bar unrefrigerated for maybe 14 or 15 hours until you serve last call?”

“Right,” says Gunner, “some refrigeration is better than no refrigeration.”

I walk over to the garnish tray and carefully lift the scuffed plastic lid. In front of me are recently cut pieces of lime on top, some lemon and orange rounds, candied cherries and green olives. As I look in the box Gunner hacks up another couple limes and tosses them in on top of the pile.

“So you were mad at me for something and got down to the bottom and found a brownish lime for me, right?”

“No, there just weren’t many limes left when you ordered,” he said.”

Gunner wanders down to the other end of the bar and I stick my finger in the limes. The bottom of the lime section is as I expected—soft, mushy and slimy. You would not be wanting anything in your drink from the bottom of the garnish tray.

Gunner comes back down the bar.

“I saw you stick your finger in the limes. That’s unsanitary,” he suggests.

It’s my turn to look at him as if he came from someplace where Moms and Dads are often brothers and sisters.

“So when was the last time your garnish tray got cleaned?” I ask.

“Dunno,” says Gunner, “The help is supposed to clean everything.”

“Same help that cleans the Johns?”

“Ah, yeah, them.”

Alan Stark is a Boulder-based freelance writer and a recovering book publisher.

Letters #193

Letter art

Envelope: K.Laskey  Silverton CO

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Setting The North Face history straight

Dear Editor, Just for the record, I noticed an error in regards to the founding of The North Face in the 40th-anniversary edition of Mountain Gazette that I should point out. Not that this was an earth-shaking
mistake, but I was the sole founder of The North Face in 1963 and I sold the company in or around 1970. Hap Klopp was never a partner of mine and entered the company’s activities long after the company was founded, and I had sold it to two brothers from the East Bay who owned a ski shop in Concord or Lafayette (don’t remember now just exactly where they were from, but one of those two places). Klopp happened onto the scene if I remember correctly as he was going to or related in some manner with the Stanford Business School and was doing
a case study of TNF as an entrepreneurial small business. He hung around our offices for a bit while he gathered his information and then that was more or less the last we saw of him. Later, and I do not remember
the circumstances, he somehow bought out the brothers who had bought the company from me.

Anyway, no big deal, but I had heard a number of times over the years that Klopp has posed as the founder and this simply is far from the fact of the matter and I wanted to set the record straight. As I said above, this is not earth-shaking news!

Best regards,
Doug Tompkins

‘Dateline: Europe’ will be missed

Dear Mr. Fayhee: Not sure who made the decision to drop Michael Brady’s “Dateline: Europe” column, but I want to register my disappointment over this decision. Brady’s column was a major reason that I subscribe to your magazine. Although I enjoy the regional nature of MG, I also enjoyed, at least as much, if not more, the cosmopolitan atmosphere that “Dateline: Europe” provided. It’s unfortunate that you don’t feel this way. The Rocky Mountain West can be very parochial and self-centered and I find it a healthy change to read about other regions.

Please reconsider your decision. You’ll probably lose at least one subscriber if you don’t, as the magazine is very much diminished without Mr. Brady’s articles. In fact, I suggest you add more writers like him. I wouldn’t mind reading about other mountainous regions of the world than just the Rocky Mountains.

Kind regards,
Ted Johnson
Belgrade MT

Misguided decision

Dear MJF: I was disappointed you wouldn’t allow any of your own comments from the past to be posted in the “Mountain Gazette’s 60 Best Excerpts” section of your 40th Anniversary issue (MG #191).

I have read Abbey, I have read Thompson and, for my reading time, I would rather have some MJF on hand.

I like Abbey and etc. Yeah you have had other good writers, yeah the best-of section had some good stuff — but still — I always read your stuff, whereas I don’t have the same drive, desire or need to read all the others. For whatever reason, your writing hits the spot, so please suspend the modesty for the next anniversary issue and allow your comments to appear in the best-of section. (I/we may not be around for another 40th anniversary — so why don’t you pull off a 45th or a 48th or some such, and allow your words to appear in big and bold print in the MG 43rd Anniversary Issue?)

So long.
Kevin A. Yuan

Gun Thoughts

John: I’m not a climber, but enjoyed MG #189 about those who do — dog issue is still the best  — but, thinking about topical issues, have you ever considered one on guns?  I’ve lived in the Colorado mountains most of my life. I own guns and I used to hunt. But, ever since I was a Boy Scout in the 1950s, it has never occurred to me to carry a gun when I camp, fish or hike. Lately, I have become aware of several acquaintances who do carry weapons in their backpacks, even on short day hikes. Is this becoming the norm these days? It might make an interesting issue just to try to find out how your readers feel, experiences they’ve had, etc. You have at least one reader who’d be interested.Cheers.

Roger Miller,
Nathrop, CO

Parodied Parody

John: When I first read the “Rumble in Hawai’i” story by Craig Childs  in #187, I thought it was well-done and useful, a cautionary tale of how easy it is to get on the wrong side of the locals even in your own country and with the best of intentions. But I have to give credit where it’s due. Robert Shepherd’s parody of the “ugly Coloradan” in #189 — booted, backpacked and obtuse — is brilliant. I especially loved the conceit that if a natural disaster — fire? flood? windstorm? — wipes out your gazebo, your land becomes everybody’s. A perfect expression of cultural arrogance. (I’m just glad he didn’t identify himself as a Californian. We already have a bad enough reputation!) OK, kinda mean but definitely funny.

Walt Read
Fresno, CA

J-Tree Paradise

John: Charles Clayton’s “Jesus and the Joshua Tree, or How I Almost Became a Climber” (MG #189) reminded me of J-Tree’s effect on this non-climber. While not a religious experience per se, I certainly thanked Gawd for that place during my visit. It’s a park that always held some level of enchanting curiosity for me. If I had to place an objective attraction on it, it’s the desert Seussical landscape, groves of goofy-looking lily relatives resembling toy poodle arbors, the botanical reincarnate of the Muppets’ “Animal” in the hugantic desert palms, and, of course, the rock formations, some literally appearing as vertical geological jigsaw puzzles or even ice cream cones. I recall one that was a perfect V cut into the cliff with a perfect sphere cradled perfectly in the top! J-Tree was all I’d hoped for.

What I didn’t expect was the climbing-friendly rocks! I am not a climber and have little, if any, interest in (though appreciate the skill involved) scaling up walls and back down when I could be coursing in and out of canyons seeking oases and staking out austere mountain passes looking for desert bighorns. However, by the amount of climbing one sees there, you can’t help but feel some sort of tacit peer pressure, and the fact that the large-grit sandpaper rock surfaces make for fairly easy jaunts up 89-degree surfaces made me a dilettante free climber for that week.

In the mornings and after dinner, all I’d have to do is put a boot up and lean forward and upwards to start my way to some outcropping 100 feet above me. It was on some of these perched rock jumbles I have some of my fondest J-Tree recollections. The friendly free-climbing allowed me to scale up to vantage points to see the solar carpet and purple shadows see-saw with each other across this fantastic landscape — a religious experience of its own kind.

Tony Smith
East Longmeadow, MA

Editor’s note: Given the fact that our snail mail address is two states away from where our editor lives, handwritten, typed and scrawled Letters to the Editor often take a while to reach the Official Desk. These next three letters were sent our way last spring. The stagecoach to Gila Country is running slower than ever.

Even More Colorado Songs

Hi, Mr. Fayhee: The Colorado Songs article was wonderful. (Smoke Signals, “Colorado Songs,” MG #185.) It was surprising how many songs exist referencing Colorado. Many of those listed are new to me. And you are right, in that this reader and others can come up with more. Here’s one: A group called Grubstake has a folk-oriented tune that might be called “The Colorado Song”. Harry Tuft, a local folk legend, is one of Grubstake’s musicians, along with three or so others. He runs the Folklore Center in Denver.

The song deals with visitors to CO that stay, thereby adding to the population.

I recall one stanza running something like: “Now we’re having trouble with the jet set/Them lazy no good bastards love to ski/ And they all want fly to Colorado and buy up all our mountain scenery.”

The chorus is roughly: “Oh you can visit now and then/Bring your money and your friends/Just don’t forget to leave when you get through.”

I suppose other Western states enduring an influx of folks have similar songs and sentiments.

Thanks again for a fun article,

Rainer (Said Ry’-ner) Hantschel
Denver, CO

Utah Songs

Hello: I live in Colorado. I know all these Colorado songs and like them, but let me make a suggestion for the finest song about our neighbor to the West. “Utah,” by the Osmonds, off of their hard-rockin’ 1972 album “Crazy Horses.” It is one of the most amazingly non-specific songs ever written … no references to anything that might make Utah a special place, except that the Osmonds live there, and they are going back there because it’s home and “the place to be.” (The least they could have done is make a pro-Mormon pitch like they did on their follow-up album, “The Plan”). That said, it’s a good solid rocker by a truly astounding and underrated group of young men.

Dan Groth
Durango, CO

Shouldn’t have got that MBA

Dear John, Hey — I figured I could call you John as 1) I love the Mountain Gazette, 2) Sometime in the ’80s, my ex-wife & I were just coming down from hiking Greys Peak ( I believe … at 57 now I can barely remember my name, much less which 14ers we hiked) and you were hitchhiking down the road + we gave you a ride, 3) I’m re-reading your book, “Up At Altitude” 4) I pick up this great copy of MG at Ken Sanders’  Rare Books — EARTH FIRST!

Hey — great magazine — A. Stark’s article, “Cosmic Justice” (MG #185) strikes a cord — in 1975 myself + ex brother in law + other best friend camped up the rock north of Nederland + hiked Arapahoe Peak — then, as the road was too tough to drive a fucking Ford Fairlane back down to Boulder to get booze (before Pearl Street was rebuilt), my pal + I hiked from Rainbow Lakes to Nederland to hitch to Boulder. I too noticed these cows, all smarter than me — all trying to deter me from
getting my MBA.

I should have listened.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your publication — like Bowden’s “Tucson City Weekly” in the ’80s — like Jim Stile’s Moab Rants — like DeVere Hinkley’s ’80s single-spaced typed eight-page missives from Cowley, Wyoming — “The Cowley Progress” — the must-read “A Man Can Believe Anything.”

Take Care — keep it going!

In the Service of Her Majesty — Mother Earth! EF!

Dave Naslund
SLC, UT
Loving life behind the ZION CURTAIN

A Sport That Encourages Drinking & Smoking!

Hi! Well March did come in like a lion in these parts — but it sure seems way to lamb-ish too soon! Snow is certainly fading fast — faster than ever I’d bet! Some would claim it’s been mud season all winter. Of course, we’re spoiled here with our geographic advantage — skiing’s been fine to great — alpine @ Wolf Creek and nordic all over our little corner of the state. I don’t mind the mud — it goes away on ground and shoes —eventually. I only hate the wind — the Chinese claim it’s evil — I won’t argue that. I am looking forward to hiking now, I must admit, though, I suspect the beetle-killed pines may pose a real danger when the winds rip!

In the meantime, there’s disc golf — I think you’d really like it, M. John F. You can smoke & drink before, during & after and throwing things at a target satisfies the primal urge — hunting?

Anyway, I wanted to send in a decorated envelope, haven’t gotten to fully digest the dog issue of MG and didn’t want to wait for the next issue. Love ’em all — only wish they were LONGER — with more info, fotos, etc.

If you want to play Pagosa’s sweet disc golf course, look me up and I’ll get you discs & show you around the course — it’s truly a sweet one! Won’t be ready for a bit of course, got to dry up the ice, snow & mud!

Happy Spring!
Addi G.
Pagosa Springs

Editor’s note: The following two Letters were addressed to long-rime MG contributor George Sibley in response to his article, “The Colorado: The First River of the Anthropocene,” which appeared in MG #188.

Hi George: Greetings from Silverton, where the aspens in my yard finally popped their buds just yesterday …

Really enjoyed your piece in MG and the turning two-by-four studs back into trees analogy! Thanks for injecting this much more useful perspective into the mind-numbing litany of “woe is us” literature on the River.

FYI — CSAS, in discussing our organizing premise, talks about the “anthroposphere” and the “music of the spheres” (atmos-, litho-,cryo-, and anthropo-spheres) … the anthropocene is the context for all this!

Cheers,
Chris Landry, Executive Director,
Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
Silverton CO

George: Beer or wine? I want to know what to buy you in appreciation of your latest work. In fact, whiskey is not out of the question.

I thoroughly enjoyed this essay each time I read it and only curse the Gazette’s format for the difficulty of scanning it so I can distribute it to my fellow members on the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District board — even if it’s to watch them choke on the word Anthropocene. Congratulations on another fine job.

Thanks again.

Jim Durr

Mountain Media #193

Buried in the sky

BOOKS: “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day,” by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

During every Himalayan expedition, the behind-the-scenes work of hauling gear, setting up camps, scouting routes and fixing rope lines falls on the backs of high-altitude workers, or Sherpa climbers, as they’re commonly known. But who are the Sherpa people? What compels some to become high-altitude workers? And on K2, the world’s second-highest peak, does the mountain goddess Takar Dolsangma answer their prayers?

In their new book, “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day,” Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan answer these questions while telling a gripping story of the August 2008 disaster. Instead of the usual glorified gush from surviving sponsored mountaineers, the story centers on the Sherpas, giving a cultural context to their perilous work amid their most sacred places.

The authors neatly lay out each of the characters’ backgrounds, personalities and philosophies as if laying out gear before an assault on the mountain. As they push for the summit, the story degenerates into a tangled mass of rope, ice, rock and dead or dying climbers. Despite multiple storylines, this book clearly communicates the imperceptible Death Zone logic and impossible language gaps that led to the deaths of eleven climbers, Sherpa or not. The story’s flow receives help from the book’s many maps, color photos and notes.

Shocked by the death of her friend Karim Meherban in the accident, fellow climber Amanda Padoan sought to uncover how such a tragedy could happen. With help from her cousin, Peter Zuckerman, the authors thoroughly researched the story, but also pioneered a new, exciting perspective that raises the bar for all mountaineering literature. Sure, it still implies the age-old question: why climb? But when asked in the context of Sherpa climbers, the answers reverberate deeper and reveal more than ever before. $26.95, www.wwnorton.com

— Jeff Miesbauer

Utah Wasatch Cover

BOOKS: “Utah’s Wasatch Range: Four Season Refuge,” by Howie Garber

Abruptly rising thousands of feet above Salt Lake City, Utah’s Wasatch Range forms a stark boundary between the western edge of the Rocky Mountains and the eastern front of the Great Basin. And, with 85% of the state’s population living within 20 miles, the range’s constant battle between conservation and development is just as stark.

Photographer Howie Garber has been exploring and taking photos in and of the Wasatch for 40 years, but his first book, “Utah’s Wasatch Range: Four Season Refuge,” is much more than just a photographic retrospective of his career in these mountains. Garber’s expansive collection of landscape, wildlife and outdoor sports photos are paired with essays from conservationists, business leaders, scientists and government officials that detail the intricacies, beauty and fragility of this cherished range. The result is both a tribute to the home of the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and a cautionary message of the many threats faced by these craggy peaks.

The book’s essays, written by everyone from skier Andrew McLean to U.S. Congressman Jim Matheson, run the gamut of subjects from geological history to watershed stewardship to the contentious nature of the Wasatch’s unparalleled ski
terrain. For those looking for reason to believe in preserving the Wasatch’s endless recreation opportunities, pure water and accessible wilderness, Garber’s beautiful images of golden aspen stands, craggy quartzite summits, diverse wildlife and powdery ski descents make the perfect companion for the words of so many important local voices.

Collectively, the book’s photographs and words make for many things — a visual tribute, a case for conservation, and most of all, something that anyone who has ever spent time in the Wasatch will find a deep appreciation for. $39.95, www.utahswasatchrangehowiegarberphotography.com

— Andy Anderson

The Old Breed

SHORT FILMS: “The Old Breed,” by Cowboy Bear Ninja

In 2011, climber and filmmaker Freddie Wilkinson received an invite to go and climb the second-highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Saser Kangri II, in Asia’s Karakoram Mountains. The invite came from Mark Richey and Steve Swenson — two men with careers, families and lengthy lists of successful climbing expeditions under their belts. Eager to pull out one more major first ascent before retiring from big-mountain expeditions, the pair recruited Wilkinson — 25 years younger than both men — as the third member of the team.

In “The Old Breed,” Wilkinson documents the trio’s climb while also exploring what compels a pair of men in their mid-50s to travel halfway around the world and risk their lives in pursuit of an unclimbed mountain. For Richey and Swenson, the trip to climb Saser Kangri II represents what might be one of the final chapters in a long and illustrious mountaineering career. For Wilkinson, it represents a chance to share in one of a dwindling number of major unclimbed summits with two climbers he had long admired.

Due to the complex nature of what Wilkinson refers to as oropolitics, many sections of the Karakoram have been closed due to tensions between the bordering nations of India, Pakistan and China. When these areas are finally opened, it presents a bounty of first ascent potential for alpinists. And it’s such a political sea change that allows these three climbers to venture in pursuit of Saser Kangri II’s unclaimed summit.

But when Swenson falls ill on the mountain with a dangerous lung infection, the film delves into the age-old mountaineering struggle between the magnetic pull of the summit and a climber’s capacity for self-preservation. The film dabbles with the oft-discussed reasons why we go to the mountains in the first place, but it’s ultimately about how even as we age, the raw, wild spaces and expansive summits of the world offer something we can’t get anywhere else. www.theoldbreedmovie.com

— Andy Anderson

It’s all in your head: Shred music

geoff snow-face

Photo by Chris Segal, Crested Butte Mountain Resort

It’s here, it’s finally here… the month we’ve all been waiting through the off-season brown, beefing up with pot lucks, brews and conditioning classes in anticipation of burning quadriceps and lifts cranking up to take us to the magnificent white glory. It’s cause for celebration. Opening day costumes, copious brews, facial hair encrusted in icy splendor and music to help drown out the deafening sound of your lungs as you huck yourself down the slopes.

That means you’d better revisit your iPod, like, now, and get some new favorite tunes loaded up, whatever your preferences run, because a decent playlist is as essential as good ski equipment. Music makes the inexperienced more confident as it glides them into a rhythmic schussing of their very own beat and makes the seasoned shredder immortal. No one genre is going to suit every snow condition or style, so you may want something less challenging on your initial ride up (some classic Dead or Marley, perhaps?), only to switch gears to something to rip by (kick in the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Pow days might require a bit of Led Zep (“Immigrant Song” is a good one to have snow nuking non-stop into your face.) Modest Mouse to Beatles tossed with Widespread Panic and seasoned with a touch of Drew Emmitt could be sunny daze cruising happily ever after choices.

You’ll certainly want your personal listening device as Thanksgiving nears and the incessant, repetitive holiday music starts crankin’ on your nerves from blaring outdoor speakers. Having a headset on is also a legitimately recognized means to ignore annoying conversationalists who take up precious time yammering away when you could be making another run. Less talk equals more gravity enhanced slope action.

If you want to slam to the same beat as the pros in your favorite ski movies, but don’t have the time to seek out every song, you’re in luck … someone’s already done the task for you. A whitewater raft guide named Jesse Lakes realized there wasn’t a site anywhere to be found with a comprehensive list of all those fabulous tunes featured in the dramatic drops those extreme sick birds take to, so he created skimoviemusic.com, where you can search by movie name or its maker, skier or company, and then download it through just one click into iTunes. He’s also created ridertunes.com for snowboard tracks and, when the lifts close and you grab your other board, you can download your faves from surfertunes.com. Pretty damn brilliant and convenient … search less, ski more is the motto here.

It’s also worth noting is that most of the opening-day celebrations at many of our favorite snow-farming resorts include music to stomp your ski and board boots to. Not wanting to give up a good party, some mountains carry on the revelry throughout the month and into the next. Vail is kicking off its 50th anniversary on November 16 with a new gondola and continuing their mezzo centenarian birthday with an impressive concert line-up for their Snow Daze, December 13 through 15, which includes The Shins, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Wilco. Get yourself tickets and info at www.vail.com/snowdaze.

Out in Crested Butte, the drive to the end of the road is definitely worthwhile for their opening Free Ski Day November 21 and the wrap of their half-century celebration as they head into their 51st year (www.skicb.com). You can also ski free on your own birthday (hopefully, it falls sometime during winter lift operations and may it scream snow like a banshee for your special day). There’s live music slopeside on the deck of Butte 66 with the return of a much-loved surprise band that can’t be named at this time, and thrown in for fun is local community radio KBUT (www.kbut.org), which will also be spinning tunes between the lifts .

Aspen opens its slopes November 22 with the amazing Reverend Horton Heat funking up a free concert on the Upper Gondola Plaza on the 24th and, since no one knows what time this shindig kicks off, you’ll have to check in at www.aspensnowmass.com.

With all the sacrifices and dances to honor and implore Ullr, this year is sure to be big and deep, so don’t wait until the last minute to recrank the iPod, because you don’t want to waste any time getting to the slopes for your dance of vertical kinetics.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance journalist, photographer and vocalist happily entrenched back in the Shire of Crested Butte fully amped for really deep winter with new helmet speakers and a large stash of downloaded tunes. Give her a shout at dbelloise@gmail.com  

The Best Bar in America

Recently, the Craft Brewers Association of America held a contest to try and find the “Best Beer Bar in America.” Members of the beer-drinking public were invited to vote through a website, and, not surprisingly, the winning institution is located in a place where the population within a 20-mile radius of the bar easily exceeds the total resident headcount of several Western states. More people equals more votes, and the numbers behind the math make perfect sense. But perhaps the calculus behind the concept is more intriguing — what makes a bar “the best?” It is a fascinating question: What makes a certain bar great, and another average? A question elusive enough that it has been ruminated upon in many MG Bar Issues. The subject is even lofty enough as to warrant treatment in a film of the same name as this column, currently in post-production/pre-release (see MG #154).

The theme is similar to the lifelong pursuit of the American dream that the good doctor, Hunter S. Thompson, undertook and used as a recurring motif throughout his writings — his mad search for any sign of the Aquarian-tinted, utopian hippie dream of the ’60s that captivated his imagination so, as reflected through the twisted lens of Las Vegas, or the alternate reality of a presidential campaign.

After reading most of what was published, it is unclear to this writer whether Thompson ever found what he was after, but what is clear is that much of the research was conducted in a wide variety of drinking establishments. And why not? For certainly, it is in the best bars in America where the elusive truth about our reality often appears, and wherein some of the finest that this country has to offer can be found …

For instance, take the Millsite Inn, located on the Peak-to-Peak Highway up above Ward, Colorado. Time was when an aspiring beer writer might take to the hills on a Saturday evening with his best girl, in search of some of that high-lonesome sound they kept talkin’ ’bout on the volunteer radio station each and every Saturday morning down in Boulder, and find himself and twenty other revelers in the company of local legends like Buck Buckner, Pete Wernick, the boys from Leftover Salmon and international prodigies like Radim Zenkel, the Czech virtuoso of all things mandolin. Long-haired, long-bearded, long-in-the-tooth mountain men sat in the shadows of the bar taking long tokes from cheap cigars and long pulls of rail whiskey while shooting dark looks from deepening brows at us long-haired, long-bearded, ne’er-do-wells as we asked the barmaid what was on tap other than Currs, a shame worth enduring to score a tall pitcher of Lefthand Brewing Co.’s Sawtooth or Odell’s 90 Schilling Ale (we still had to share our smaller but not-so-cheap cigars furtively outside between the vans, however).

Or take, perhaps, Alma’s Only Bar (aptly named, as the other drinking establishment in North America’s highest-elevationed incorporated town is a saloon), which was at this same time, as we found out, a great place to meet long-haired, long-bearded, long-in-the-tooth mountain men that were wacked out of their minds on LSD on a Saturday evening. A chance run-in with space cowboys is always disconcerting when oneself is not also trippin’, and, after a day spent learning to drop a knee at the hands of two “friends,” who also happened to be working ski patrol at Loveland that season, and subsequently in uber-physical shape from patrolling on tele for the two previous months, my beat-to-shit muscular and cardiovascular systems weighed with such force on my mental capabilities that the beguiling dudes in the corner talking excitedly about a string of completely unrelated abstractions just about threw me over the edge. ’Twas on this night that Alma’s Only Bar happened to have a new beer on tap, the now-august Hazed and Infused pale ale from Boulder Brewing Co. At the time, this was one of the most hopped-up beers on the market, and let’s just say that this experience did for hops and I what Burt Reynold’s mustache did in “Smokey and the Bandit” for D-bag dudes and the Pontiac Trans-Am. Yes, it was love at first sip, and the rest is history.

But to get back to my point … all the while he searched for his notion of the American dream, it seems to me that the good doctor was constantly looking for a twinkling reflection of his own vibrant “madness” in the twisted misshapen mirrors of the people he encountered. I don’t know if he ever saw it (perhaps in the strange moment that he relates where he is sitting for a few minutes alone with Nixon in the back of a limo talking football), but, if it happened elsewhere, it was not
mentioned, or I am remiss in my recollections. What I do know is this: While good beer on tap helps, the best bar in America is determined by the patrons. It’s you, and me, and the other freaks that sit and converse and share our wild dreams in these spaces and places about the matters and times that concern us that can make any bar the best bar in America, even if just for an evening.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, where he spends his leisure time brewing his own beer. Got your own thoughts about the best bar in America? Drop him a line at beer@mountaingazette.com. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #193

San Francisco Ski Show

Used Shoes, San Francisco Ski Show 1976

In the course of auditing my tax account, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that I was allowed to take a deduction for one pair of skis a year, but could not deduct my boots. As they saw the matter, the boots could be conceivably be used for purposes other than skiing. What those other purposes were was not clear. My attorney made the analogy with his three-piece suit, which he was required to wear in the courtroom, even through he only appeared in court only about once a year. It was necessary for his profession, but could be worn places other than in the courtroom, so was not deductible.

I can hardly see myself clomping into a courtroom in my Lange boots, or being able to sit comfortably as a juror for any considerable length of time. Or wearing a three-piece suit in a snowstorm, for that matter, although it may already have been done. So there you are, ski boots are not deductible.

If “skiing” is not a sport, but a “way of life,” then ski boots are not sporting goods, but life-supporting goods, so they should be chosen with care, and made to last. Which is how they were originally made — leather starched over a last — until Hans Heierling’s hands were no longer enough to sew the elephant hide he used in his last boots. Thus began, by default, the era of plastic. At last, or so we thought.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

If the world doesn’t end

cartographic

Winter has some serious competition this year in the form of The Shift, which is slated around the date of Dec. 21, and at which time, as you very well know, the world will split into higher and lower dimensional realities. We’re not exactly sure how winter is going to play out in the new scenario, so we’re using our current Third Dimension, where other people’s bad luck/decisions/situations make for fun things for the rest of us lowlifes to talk about. Those of us who move on to the Fifth Dimension won’t be doing this kind of crap anymore.

1) Winter You Gotta Wonderland

We got to wondering if there were any real, sanctioned Winter Wonderlands out there. What we were looking for were places that are so goddamned wonderful that you almost can’t stand it. Instead, we found a story about allegedly great wintry places to retire because, if you don’t have to work, you don’t have to go outside in the towns’ really repulsive weather. Places like South Bend, Indiana. What the hell? Anyway, according to U.S. News, there are lots of great crappy wintry places to go if you don’t plan to go outside and deal with the fact that you’re in such a crappy situation. On the list: Juneau, Alaska; Syracuse, N.Y.; South Bend; Marquette, Michigan (where, in winter, you can usually saw off your own limbs without anesthesia after 20 minutes of being outside); Minneapolis (a relatively okay place due to a bunch of skyway tunnels to run around in, sort of like a gerbil habitat) and Aurora, Colorado (Aurora doesn’t necessarily have hideous weather, but if you’re moving to Colorado, you might as well take all your retirement money and spend three weeks in Aspen instead). There also were a few places where you might actually want to go outside: Burlington, Vermont, Salt Lake City and Portland, Maine.

2) Action-packed winter sports

It’s never too early to start getting all lathered up over the next Winter Olympics. If you want to get your sport listed for competition, a good place to start is by petitioning the International Olympic Committee via sites like Change.org or GoPetition.com. Really, it’s that easy; otherwise there’s no way they’d have curling or biathlon. That said, it’s anyone’s guess why the maniacs who race their cars on the partially frozen lake at Georgetown, Colorado, for example, have not had some sort of Olympic invitation/recognition. We digress (and to be fair, we should mention that they often place orange cones somewhere near the place where ice becomes water). You can plan to see women’s ski jumping added to the 2014 lineup at Sochi, in addition to a figure skating team event, a luge team relay, ski halfpipe for men and women AND the long-awaited biathlon mixed relay, which pretty much has everyone at the Mountain Gazette foaming at the mouth and/or experiencing bowel failure. Evidently, the XGames have had some influence on the addition of more extreme sports. Wielding his usual rapier wit, IOC president Jacques Rogge had this to say: “Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed lineup of Olympic winter sports.”

3) The winter of our discontent

While zillions of people attempt to escape the winter cold every year and thaw out in Arizona, we’ve got some real bad news. Both the Kingman/Lake Havasu City and Prescott areas apparently suck the good vibes out of people, or perhaps people with bad vibes are attracted to these locales, creating a vibrational suckhole that puts these spots among the top-10 saddest places in the United States, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. It goes without
saying that Boulder took the top billing as the happiest place in the country (see Olympic sports entry for MG staff reaction to Boulder’s inherent perkiness). Conversely, out of 188 MSA’s (metropolitan statistical areas), Huntington-Ashland
WV-KY-OH took top billing as the saddest place in the country, followed by places like Youngstown, Ohio, and Beaumont, Texas. Coming in at No. 9, Prescott has a bunch of firecrackers who predominantly rank low in their feelings about their physical health and life in general. At No. 8, the folks in the Kingman/Lake Havasu City area ranked 52nd for emotional health, but completely fell apart on physical health and overall life evaluation.

4) Precision research on winter clothes

Operating on the assumption that colder, more-wintry places force people to buy warm clothes that are more expensive by nature, we learned many things in our extensive investigation. First of all, and no surprise here — folks in Jackson buy a lot of clothes — an average of $361 a month, according to Bundle. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s sartorial average is $121, with places like Sheridan ($119) and Rawlins ($97) holding the numbers and fashion down. If you seriously don’t want to dress to impress, Montana and Idaho are where you need to be. Montana has a scratchy $85 monthly average, with Livingston coming in at a paltry $81. Idaho’s average is $86, and if you really want to scrimp on style, Caldwell is your place at $53. We checked out Silver City, N.M., home of the Gazette’s esteemed editor, and folks there are parting with $91 a month on clothes.

5) Dirtbags, all

We were looking for some fun, weird-ish winter festivals to talk about here, and encountered the usual ice-water plunges, and, naturally, the après-Christmas fruitcake toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado. But ranking among the World’s Top-10 Winter Festivals, according to MSN Travel, is Dirtbag Day at Big Sky Resort. Held in March, it’s not so much about douchebags, although there is some statistical crossover here. It’s more about hardcore skiers and riders who hit the bars at night, with hygiene as a distant consideration. Anyway, on Dirtbag Day, the dirtbags get to dress up in whatever they want. “This is our Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras all in one,” one of the participants told The New York Times.  

Way of the Mountain #193

Elections are over. Time to let go the human drama. And dig into the spirit of place where you live. Awake to what lives beneath your feet … Two poets from Ridgway this month — must be the several hot springs there (Orvis, Wiesbaden, Ouray) that makes for such good poets …

— Art Goodtimes, Cloud Acre

47 km North of Squamish

Wet silence of flakes
Gives way
To the heavy rush of falls
And I’m drawn
Sneakers like slippers
Into the soft powder of
The muffled white woods

— Bryan Shuman
Laramie

The Old Barn

the old barn
stands open to the sky
and the steaming breath
of black horses searching for grass
in the muted gold of winter

— Cathy Casper
Eagle

Avalanche

What was thicker
than a man and
a thousand times
stronger snapped
at the waist from
the breath of what
consumed a gorge we
labored all day to traverse

— Kevin Patrick McCarthy
Locuto.com
Boulder

Driving. Blizzard.

My wish is for
eighteen more
of you in the
world, says
the five-year-old
to his big sister,
and we sit back
into the sum total
of what we
know.

— Erika Moss Gordon
Ridgway

Snowy Woods

Along Cottonwood Pass
the loggers’ road
covered in deep snow
becomes a skier’s delight
winding through pines

— David Reynolds
Fountain Valley

Ice Verse 3

Our girls red cheeked
tasting this evening’s snow

Coldplay in the background
trying to capture Satie
The mad Frenchman’s “Gymnopedie”
plays us out

No lyrics
only notes fading into dark
credits rolling and blame

— Kierstin Bridger
Ridgway

Coming Back from a Moonlight Ski

when i am
dead
dead
dead
coyotes will leave
tracks in fresh snow
and stars will shine
at night, then
who
who
will be watching

— Carl Marcus
Wilson Mesa

Summerville Trail

Talus slope
Chirping marmot
Bear? Me? Both?

— Joseph Van Nurden
Gunnison

Old Haiku Chair

old haiku chair
just off the trail
has 4 legs and half an arm

— Jimi Bernath
from “Weathering” 
(Porcupine Books)
Englewood  

The Hermit Trail

Grand Canyon illustration

Ed Abbey and I traveled all over the Southwest. I was a college sophomore and “Desert Solitare” had been in print for only four years. I kept a cheap, dog-eared copy in my red Kelty external-frame backpack and everywhere I hitchhiked across the Southwest, there was Ed.

We had great conversations as we thumbed across the Colorado Plateau, from the Glen Canyon Damn to the Gila, the Henrys, Madera Canyon and the Dragoons.

He was there that night in Hussong’s in Enseñada, Mexico, when I met a ranch manager at the bar and he suggested we visit the place he was caretaking along the coast. On the way to the beach, we suffered a fierce hailstorm, got soaked. I tried to dry my jeans by the ranch house fireplace, but, because of too much tequila, my attention wavered. The jeans burned up, and I crossed the border at Tijuana wearing a beard and a lightweight cotton skirt.

Ed was in my pack with the fringed Pendleton blanket I’d bought at the pawn shop on Route 66 in Gallup. I didn’t know it was a female blanket. It was cheap and I wanted to stay warm. Sometimes, I wore it draped around my shoulders or tied to the top of my pack. All across Navajo and Hopi land, I got sly smiles from children, uproarious laughter from adults and rides in the back of trucks.

Abbey was my guide. He taught me never to let college interfere with my education, how to question authority and how to find myself by getting lost. He went with me to Canyonlands, Arches, Wupatki and everywhere on the Coconino. Abbey was even with me on the Hermit Trail in the glaring light and suffocating heat of the Grand Canyon, and he was just as glad to crawl out of that overrated hole in the ground as I was. To hell with all those glorious sunrises and sunsets. I needed beer. I needed rest. And I needed to get laid.

I knew it wasn’t a good idea to take two girlfriends to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the same hike. I knew the Hermit Trail was a long, hot nine-mile slog 4,300 feet down to the river, but I wanted less traffic than on the Bright Angel Trail, with its hordes of tourists and farting, shitting mules. I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how much trouble I’d get into or what I’d find at the Colorado River’s edge.

What I didn’t know was how much water to take, even in March. Nor did I know the benefits of caps, hats, anything to cover my overheated head. But I’d learn. Oh, yes, I’d learn.

In the morning descending into the center of the earth, the first mile below the rim, hikers are confident, calm, poised. Backpacks are not yet heavy, thirst is not anything like what it will be by late afternoon, and the lack of shade is of no consequence. Hikers stretch out and get distance between each other. The full-on heat of the canyon is not yet apparent, at least not in early spring. It’s joyful to swing out along the trail walking, deeper and deeper away from the traffic, congestion and gawking tourists with their cameras, ice cream cones and fear of leaving the paved viewpoints on top.

Molly, Susan and I spread out. We attended college together and wanted to hike the Grand Canyon on our spring break. It had seemed like a fine thing to do back in Colorado with late-winter snow still on the ground, and no warm Chinook winds to melt patches of ice. So we made the drive down through Durango, the Four Corners, on to Kayenta, Tuba City, Cameron and in. Seeing the canyon in late afternoon light is unforgettable. As we drove, we thought about how fun it would be to play in the river so far below us, we couldn’t even see it.

Susan had her dad’s big Ford Galaxie station wagon and agreed to drive, which gave me time to flirt with freckle-faced Molly with her long straight hair, cute dimples and warm smile. I didn’t know how well I’d get to know her until we got close to the bottom. Then she took off her shorts and top and swam naked in one of the pools. Underwater, she dipped and dived, her smooth white skin submerged below the green surface of the water, a college boy’s fantasy if ever there was one. I’d been reading Abbey and somewhere he’d written about “rosy-bottomed skinny-dippers.” Had he been down the Hermit Trail, too?

But before we got to the pools and Polly’s birthday suit, there were miles of hot, dusty trail. After a few hours, my canteen was almost empty. I had no chewing gum and my tongue was getting thick and heavy. Little sparks seemed to float near my eyelids. I finished the canteen and soon wanted more water but, in the glare of mid-day, all I could find was shimmering, bleached-out rocks. The trail wound down. First, I wanted water, then I begged for shade, but there was none of that, either.

Instead, what there was under that glaring, brutal sun was a group of bouncy, boisterous Boy Scouts. Didn’t they know they could die out here in the depths of the Grand Canyon? What sort of Kool-Aid was in their canteens anyway? And, if the Boy Scouts were a shimmering haze of uniforms, patches and pins, on the flat, dry Tonto Platform, I thought I saw a wiry little man skipping down the trail, poking at rocks, turning them over and setting them back. It was high noon and I thought I was seeing things — a brown leather elf wearing nylon shorts and sandals. He looked not just sunburned but sunbaked, like a dark chocolate chip cookie left in an oven overnight. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and assumed we’d had too many beers the evening before at our camp up top.

We’d packed all wrong. Too much food. Canned goods, mostly. Too many clothes. Winter wear for Colorado utterly unnecessary where we were headed. The sleeping bags were too heavy and I don’t remember any tents. What I do remember is becoming overheated, wanting water, then wanting shade, willing to settle for death if only the vultures and coyotes would be quick and clean. Sharp claws gripped behind my eyeballs. Dust in my nose made it hard to breath, and those damn Boy Scouts up ahead kept singing.

I knew I should have felt more responsibility for the young women I was with, but they seemed to have more stamina than I did, and they had sense enough to bring caps while I thought my long hair would keep me cool. Without a hiking stick, I slipped and tripped every now and then, sliding a few feet closer to the bottom. As for the brilliant colors and snapshots of geologic time in the heart of the canyon, it was all stone to me. I was as dry as a hobo’s shoe.

Just when I was ready to give up, fall behind a rock and wait for darkness, death, anything, out of the corner of my eye I saw the tiniest little white cloud.  A few minutes later, it got larger, and the hot desert wind seemed to be a trifle cooler. The cumulus cloud grew. I said a quick prayer for shade and was overjoyed when the first cold drop of rain splattered in the dust before me. Suddenly, scattered drops became a deluge. What had been an insufferable descent into hell became a rush to get out of the cold, driving rain mixed with spikes of hail.

We came around a corner to find Hermit’s Creek and a likely ledge for shelter. As we ducked under it, we were surprised to see a dozen other hikers with wet hair, soaked shirts and saturated packs. My death march was over. From rain running off the alcove I scooped cold, clear water in dripping handfuls. We had a few snacks. The eagles let go of the backs of my eyeballs. I was delighted to see how lovely Susan and Molly looked in their wet, clinging T-shirts. It was the early 1970s and liberated women wore no bras.

Renewed, refreshed and keenly interested in sharing my sleeping bag that night, when the rain ceased we swung on down the trail. In another mile, we could hear the river, though we couldn’t see it. Water kept flowing down rivulets and off canyon walls. I was as happy and as ecstatic in that moment as I had been depressed and forlorn forty minutes earlier.

Life had taken on new meaning. I would live to tell the tale. To hell with the vultures, the coyotes and the Boy Scouts. I had two girls ahead of me on the path, a pack full of food, a wet bandanna around my neck for extra cooling and the welcome roar of a river getting louder in my ears. It would be an exciting night to be alone with Susan and Molly. I would be the hero, the guide, the interpreter. I would make up stories about prospectors, tell them about my favorite children’s book, “Brighty of the Grand Canyon,” whip up Dinty Moore beef stew as canyon cuisine, wait for the stars, the cool night and the need to sleep close.

And then I saw them. Large hairy males wearing loin cloths dead ahead on the trail. Tall, muscular, bearded, like some throwback to the Stone Age. What the hell was this? We had almost made it to the bottom. I wanted to be alone with these two young bra-less co-eds, but, instead, we’d stumbled into a camp of degenerate, dope-smoking male hippies in need of food and females. While I was trying to determine what kind of threat the lean, muscular and totally bronzed Neanderthals might pose, Polly took off her clothes …

Stunned, I watched as she swam and splashed, making little noises about how cool the water was. I particularly liked her backstroke. Shapely breasts exposed, silken alabaster thighs moving slowly through the pool. Suddenly, there was a large splash. One of the cavemen had taken off his loincloth and jumped in. They started to swim and laugh together. I thought about reaching for a rock to bean him on the head when he swam by, but then I saw his four friends grinning ear to ear and talking to Sarah, who had just started to take off her T-shirt, too. I looked at my arms. As white as the belly of a trout.

So much for all those hours spent in the college library. My moment of confidence and tranquility ebbed away. I sat down hard on a rock, took off my pack, looked for a map and realized this was the end of the trail. The Colorado River was just below us. I had thought I’d find privacy. I thought at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the girls’ inhibitions would fall away. You know, back to nature in the basement of time.

But I had not counted on stumbling into a male hippie enclave hiding from the National Park Service. Their 14-day camping permits had long since expired. Instead, the merry band lived on food from any backpackers who had extra and who were returning to the top. When that ran out, they drew straws from blades of grass to see who would make the long hike up. We had arrived just in time. I had brought food and females.

Dejected, I watched a milk-white mermaid and a bronzed Greek God gambol in a pour-off pool. The Grand Canyon suddenly didn’t seem so grand anymore. Then the lizard man showed up.

He wasn’t actually a lizard man. He was a man who studied lizards and looked like one. He was a scientist from some university back east and this was his spring break, too. I don’t know what he’d been smoking, but a decade earlier he’d been hiking the Hermit Trail, crossing the Tonto Platform, and had seen the very first, only, one-of-a-kind, bonafide lizard with hair on it. Naturally, he was surprised. Delighted, but surprised. Quickly he reached for his camera only to remember that he’d forgotten to put in a new roll of film.

The lizard lounged, did a few push-ups, posed on a rock, showing off its hairy chest and a few small tufts of hair on its legs. Frantically, the scientist groped to load his camera, finally the film was in. He quickly closed the camera’s back, leaned down to take the photo that would make him world famous, and the hairy lizard disappeared. Without a trace. Into the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Into the brightness of high noon.

Skeptically, I listened to his story. It didn’t sound too probable to me, but what the hell? How was I to know that a colony of renegade hippies would make off with not one but both of my girlfriends? Reality was pretty strange down here below the rim. Anything could happen in the heat of the day.

I looked again at the scientist. He’d been stained mahogany by the sun. Then I looked closer. If he’d found a lizard with hair on it, he himself had no hair. Nowhere. He was as bald as a river rock. Seemed a little odd, but he was telling what he thought was a rational story about why he’d returned to the same spot on the Hermit Trail every March for the last sixteen years. This was the imp I’d seen hours ago.

I was sympathetic. At least I’d found someone not interested in gawking at the two girls I’d led down here to a canyon oasis. Still feeling sorry for myself, I looked up. By then, we were close to the river and a large group of rafts was coming by, including a National Park Service rig hidden in between the other rafts. The swimmers had decided to sun themselves on a boulder and didn’t see what was happening.

Ah ha! I thought. I’m saved. The Park Service will bust these law-breaking cavemen, give them fat fines, handcuff them, haul them out by water and leave me in peace with my naked nymphs. Hooray for the man with the gray shirt and golden badge!

But the hippies, long overdue up top, had been expecting an official visit. Just as I started to run down to the rocks to receive a tossed line from the short-sleeved ranger, the king of the vagabonds, naked as the day he was born, jumped off the boulder he’d been lying on with Molly, swam a little ways off shore, climbed on another rock and yelled at the passing boaters, water streaming off the long hair that ran halfway down his shoulders, “MY NAME IS KING RICHARD AND THIS IS MY BATHTUB — BE GONE!!!”

Startled by this brazen exhibition of premeditated madness, the Park Service ranger forgot to throw the rope. He drifted into frothing Hermit Rapid the wrong way and, despite paddling hard toward shore, the current pulled him into the river’s main channel. Like the other rafters, he was gone. And so was my hope for solitude and sex.

The cavemen, the girls, the lizard man, all began to laugh. I didn’t.

It would be a long restless night, followed by more nakedness the next day with accompanying giggles, hand holding and God knows what else. I slept alone in the sand counting the stars. Wondering how long it would take to hike out.

The morning of the fourth day, we began the long trek up, minus most of our food, which we had donated to the hairy hippies. Susan and Molly gave big hugs to the Neanderthals, hugs that seemed a little too long for such newfound friends, but who cared? I was going up, climbing toward the rim and sanity, to the real world and not this crazy canyon scene.

My legs and thighs hurt. Thankfully, the muscles we use hiking uphill are different from the muscles used going downhill or I would have been immobile. I was feeling pretty good until those rowdy Boy Scouts came by, shouting and singing and way too happy for the hard hike ahead. Hours and hours later — or was it days, weeks, months? — we finally topped out, took off our packs and collapsed. Molly and Susan were beat, exhausted, too much heat they said, and quite frankly, a real expanse of sunburn.

I was not sympathetic. Secretly, I wished that we’d all gotten sunburned together, but that had not come to pass.

Truly in need of shade and rest, we made it to the Ford station wagon and down the road to a cheap motel at Cameron, Arizona. I was perking up. Here was my chance. Having experienced the beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon, I was ready for a long, slow night in a motel room with two college co-eds. We got the room. The last one they had.

Heart pounding with anticipation, I opened the door to two single beds. I showered, they showered, shades drawn, we re-hydrated drinking glass after glass of water. They put lotion on each other and whimpered softly, exclaiming loudly as they applied cream to the more painful bright-red, sunburned places.

Then they slept. And so did I.

On the floor.

The author teaches at an institution of higher learning on the Colorado Plateau and prefers to travel incognito