Friday, February 10, 2012

Doug Buchanan: May 19, 1947 -- February 7, 2012

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 blue 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.


  1. A fine piece, Roman..... of scratching the surface of the heart of the man.

    1. Roman, may I use some of your words for Doug's obituary in his hometown of Yakima (Selah) WA? So well written....

  2. Nice. And thank you for mentioning the smiling eyes... I'm not a climber, but those eyes seemed to sparkle whenever Doug got on the trail of any conversation he found interesting: wine, politics, philosophy, floating islands... The enthusiasm was infectious. He will be missed.

  3. well said.... he is missed.

  4. Very well put indeed! Doug was a wonderful individual with facinating views. Those who knew him are, 'with out doubt' the better for it! God rest his soul!


  5. Such energy and engagement. He captivated and inspired. And "it" really was still evolving. Quite a shy, quiet youth that just kept blossoming.

  6. Nicely said, Roman. Thanks.

  7. thank you kindly Roman,

    Doug's talents were broad as the rim on his top hat,


  8. My heart sank when I read this. I had been corresponding with Doug via email here and there for the past 6 months or so. As a new Alaskan, he became an inspiration for me back in 2009 when I discovered all of his various web sites ( being my favorite). Excellent obituary, Roman.

    (Does this mean he receives the next Otzi The Ice Man Award?)

    As Doug would say...

    Keep on having fun.

  9. Doug, myself and Jim Carlson grew up together. We became the triumvirate of a realm composed of inspiration, imagination and avocation...boys. lads, eventually young men of renaissance. Those initial attributes were imbedded. The result is an unique adventure known as LIFE. Doug was the epitome. Those initial escapades and adventures nurtured much...of what was to become. We lost Jim to an avalanche in 1974. Doug was there. He survived and achieved the essence of those years after. I miss them both.

    Michael Craig

  10. So well written, Doug was kind and funny, smart and crazy too. I will really miss him.

  11. Sorry for your loss. I was not aware of him, but thanks for posting, I can't stop reading his story pages.

  12. And Doug's legacy. What will that be?

  13. Betty Buchanan KellerJune 10, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    As I reread your words about my baby brother, it brought tears to my eyes again. He was special all through his growing up years and did so much for me as an adult. He had a vision for my property and every year, helped by providing trees, planting them and building paths. I think of him every day as I work outside, continuing toward his vision. My hugs now go to Ilo for all her love and care of Doug that kept him going longer than most in his final illness.

  14. hey there say, i just saw this tribute to doug... i learned of doug when first posted at the supertopo... i always knew that something very important was going in his mind and spirit, and i enjoyed it when he showed up, though his ways were differnt, as to sharing posts... i did not know or understand any of his 'causes' that were so dear to him, as, i am not a climber, and a lot of so many things out there is all new to me--but i always loved the great doors, by hiking, or just observing... yep--doug was a lover of the great outdoors and somehow touched my heart in a very special way :) ... i always prayed for him, and was recently worried when i had not seen him in a long time... i did not know he was ill at those times :( ... since then, i have heard from his wonderful wife, and learned of their wonderful life together... i thank god that i knew a bit about doug and that i got to know more of him, through all the 'trails' left behind... love and prayers always for iloilo, i make sure to not forget her, just like i never forgot about ol' doug, :) you never know about someone from just a few visits, just the 'tip of the ol' iceberg' ... there is so much along their trail that has made them who they are... my little salute to doug, is "thank you for just being you, and sharing you life with all the folks that you met along the way, and thank you for being a good husband to iloilo" i will share this page, god bless... from 'ol neebee...

  15. As the un-official spokesman for ICNW (Ice Climbers for A Nuclear Winter) I am reminded of Brutus speech when he said we come to bury Ceaser not to praise him, that the evil that men do is remembered while the good is interned with their bones. But while we at ICNW, especially the California chapter knew that Doug was apposed to a man made rapid global winterization of the planet, even if it meant making Angles Falls Venezuela climbable, that in his heart that Doug was a friend of man induced climbable ice. Take for example

    To our departed (though not visionary aligned friend) may your tools be sharp, the ice plastic nad you have the good sense not to be tied in with one of the other Ozie the Iceman award recipients.

  16. Roar! Roar at the night. God, but we laughed so hard. Next time, we have to remember what was so damned funny.


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