Seven nights before Valentine's Day, while the temperature climbed 80 degrees from -50 to freezing in Fairbanks, Doug Buchanan died.
Doug lived many lives, all connected, all enacted thoughtfully, artfully, meaningfully. He enjoyed the respect and company and humor of many, many, mostly in Fairbanks, but also around the world, where he was famous.
Famous for rabble-rousing, for elevating freedom above safety, security, control.
A revolutionary who did not call us to arms -- us being climbers, mostly in Alaska, but elsewhere, too -- not to arms, but to action, to take responsibility for ourselves and so protect our freedoms.
He was really the first to say that while conservation is critical, mountain freedom will be curbed in the name of conservation.
He was right, of course, as he almost always was during mid-winter party talk, serious parties, serious talk, but witty, too, and humor in those smiling gray eyes.
Yes he was right about the inevitable tension between land managers and freedom-seeking adventurers (like you, brother). This conclusion of Doug's came long before the Access Fund founders even sensed a problem.
In the mid 1980s Doug pioneered climbing insurance in this country. The Mountain Rescue Expense Fund was the first. It lived on for decades, protecting the runners, skiers, and packrafters of the Wilderness Classic.
Doug also pioneered climbs in the Alaska Range and Wrangells, especially first winter ascents. He specialized in the nameless, the unknowable, the cold and the desperate, the lonely.
His many first ascents, while not solo, remained anonymous, purposefully protecting the sensibilities of those who followed, so that they, also, might savor the feeling of first. While Doug must have craved and received recognition and respect, as all humans do, he shunned making his personal conquests known.
Doug was a climber-skier-boater-skydiver-self-propelled-subsistence hunter for 40 years. He jumped out of hot-air balloons, rappelled into glacier bellies, lined his boat upstream and returned with it full of moose. Recently, he and a friend designed and built ice tower climbs in Alaska's Interior. One hundred miles from anyplace steep and wet enough to hold natural ice, they built and colored 150 foot towers of ice in psychedelic colors winter after winter.
Doug experimented with fabrics from the 70s-80s, lightweight fabrics he sewed himself in designs he imagined while pursuing wild, icy mountain and solo ocean adventures so far out of the league of everyone else that decades passed before others did the same. He knapped arrowheads, made museum-quality pipes and sculpture, and later kept incredible entertaining and provocative websites of stories and this and more.
Yes, a revolutionary, a visionary in ways, physical, metaphysical, and herbal, as some may recall (smiling if they happen to read this).
Doug served with the 7/17 Cavalry as platoon leader and helicopter pilot in Vietnam during the late sixties. Soon after, he grew a pony-tail and long beard to match. Head hair reached down his back, face hair his chest. Truth be told in later age, his beard was longer, and in the most recent photos I see the pony tail is gone, but the beard, the long, gray, full beard, an enigmatic blend of wisdom, counter-culture, and liberty shines in resplendent display.
He organized an Alpine Club recognized by the UIAA, sponsoring the likes of Todd Skinner to competitive climbing events. He served on the board of the NRA, too, but quit in disgust of what seemed to be self-serving elitists (just like East Coast climbers, yea?). He fought federal regulations and won.
Yes, he was a visionary. A mentor. And a friend.
More than that, he was a model of a man.