Tag Archives: mountaineering history

The People I Never Really Knew

In spite of their lifelong determination to live surrounded by nature rather than people, my parents attracted a rich variety of friends. When I was growing up the crunching of tires on our gravel road usually signaled a chance to sit in our sunny living room and listen to conversations that I now realize exposed me to experiences and ideas far beyond what most young people encounter. Mountain climbers came from all over the world to see the workshop where some of their favorite climbing gear was made. Grandparents, great aunts, and cousins came from New York, Michigan, and Idaho to spend a few weeks in the fresh air. Our most frequent visitors were the Hanssons and Metcalfs, two families who had met at Antioch College. They brought the world of universities, business, psychiatry, and wildlife management. Colorado’s first state botanist, Hazel Schmoll, ran a guest ranch just down the road from us.Local sheriff Roy Fling and his wife Goldie lived log cabin down the road decorated with white antlers that stood out starkly against the dark wood. They regaled us with tales of mountain rescues and Roy’s efforts to keep the peace as hippies, old mining families, and summer visitors intermingled.

Part of my experience of reflecting on Mother and Dad’s lives has been to realize how fascinating all these people are and how little I know them. As a child I took them all for granted. They fit into the context of my world, but I never wondered about the wholeness of their lives. The first time I realized this was when, in my early twenties, I realized that my Great Aunt Florence, who played a big part in my mother’s upbringing and sometimes brought me presents from her overseas travels, would be a very interesting person to get to know as an adult. I tried to visit her one summer, but she was out of town and she died before I had another chance. The more Mother has shared with me about her, the more I regret not knowing her better.

Today I started to write an entry about my father’s guitar playing. It was family friend Dolores LaChapelle who got him started, and I decided to try to contact her. I remember Dolores as a tall, warm, earthy woman with a long thick braid of hair hanging over her shoulder. She and her son Randy (later known as David) spent a few summers with us in Colorado while her husband Ed followed the ice and snow to Alaska. I also remember visiting them in Alta, Utah in the winter. Their home was a small chalet up the hill across the valley from the ski area and accessible in the snow only by a rope tow. Visits were warm and friendly and permeated with the smell of damp wool and warm ski wax. They had a howitzer on their front porch which Ed used to shoot down potential avalanches before the lifts started up in the morning.  A bit of Internet searching placed these personal memories in the context of three influential lives. Dolores wasn’t just someone who played the guitar and served us hot chocolate when we came in from a day in the snow. She was an internationally known pioneer in powder skiing technique, a scholar, a researcher, and a philosopher. Her husband wasn’t just a guy with a job keeping the ski slopes safe. He was a scientist who studied snow structure and glaciers and a pioneer in the development of the avalanche beacon. And their son Randy/David who was just a kid my age who shared my love of the outdoors when we were growing up made a name for himself as a wilderness guide and writer, following his mother’s deep love of and connection to the earth. And they are all gone. The Internet told me that, too. Dolores died in February, 2007, active until the end. Ed died just a few days after attending her memorial service. David died in the summer of 2009. Just like that, they are all gone, and I will never have a chance to sit and talk to them and get to know them outside the lens of childhood.

All this makes me grateful for the people from my childhood that I have spent time with as an adult. Meg Hansson, an astute businesswoman with a warm heart that welcomed a parade of exchange students into her home when I was young welcomed me into her home when I moved back to Colorado almost fifteen years ago. I call or visit her several times a year and through our conversations I have begun to fill in the context of many lives from my childhood. I have also spent time with Dad’s army buddy Bob Swartz and his wife Dorothy, and Stan and Ginny Boucher, old climbing friends of my parents. The memorial services we held on our old mountain home brought other people from my childhood into my adult life. As I close this entry (guitar playing will have to wait) I remember a promise I made to another family friend that since my last two phone calls to her were to bring the sad news of my parents’ deaths I would call her again just to talk. She lives on the West Coast, so it’s still early enough.


Tags: , , , , ,

Publishing on demand thoughts

Yesterday I described the moderately mixed success my grandfather and my father had with self publishing. My grandfather used a traditional vanity press, and my father began by using a commercial printer and transitioned to doing it all with his own computer and printer. Dad’s cruising guides used a very simple binding technology that was easy to do at home: a spiral binding, which has the advantage of lying flat when in use. This post will describe my experience with on-demand publishing, a development that allows an author to publish a hardcover or paperback book without paying for a print run up front or investing in expensive printers and binding equipment.

The post WWII years were a time of radical changes in the way Americans interacted with the natural world. Our pioneer heritage taught us that the wilderness should be conquered and civilized. In the 1950s boy scouts still went camping in what is now the Indian Peaks Wilderness area and cut branches to lash into camp furniture, proudly leaving their mark on the land. A major influence on the transition from an attitude of conquest to one of preservation was the development of lightweight camping gear. I knew this connection first-hand from accompanying my father, Gerry Cunningham, as he gave talks and demonstrations promoting the “Leave No Trace” philosophy and showing how our family used Gerry equipment to backpack carrying less that 20 lb. each. After I moved back to Colorado in the late 1990s I realized that there was little awareness in Colorado’s outdoor community of the history that led to our strong outdoor culture. The history of the “Lightweight Revolution” on the GoLite company’s Web site at is a prime example of how oblivious today’s outdoor enthusiasts can be. I often thought about researching and writing about some of these developments. Then a man named Bruce Johnson with a passion for the history of outdoor gear appeared, and I no longer worried about this history being lost.

Bruce has a Web site with extensive information on a wide range of gear pioneers  at He has written books about three gear pioneers: Dale Johnson of Frostline Kits, Gerry and Ann Cunningham of Gerry Mountain Sports, and Roy and Alice Holubar of Holubar Mountaineering. He is using, a publish-on-demand site to publish them. I have all three, one in paperback format and two in hardcover.

The books are thoroughly researched and well written, though not as polished as books that go through the traditional editing and publishing process would be.  The layout is attractive and the reproduction of photos is excellent on the glossy paper stock. The paperback binding is well glued. The hardcovers have a sturdy cloth cover with sewn pages and a colorful dust jacket. Paying a vanity press up front for a small run of each book would require the kind of money most aspiring authors don’t have, so print-on-demand seems like an ideal solution. So what is the problem?

Price is the problem. The paperback editions are $27.95 plus s&h and the hardcovers are $39.95. Bruce Johnson’s books have achieved a certain amount of recognition (he was honored by the Boulder Heritage Roundtable on May 10, 2010) and are found in a few libraries with a particular interest in this field. However, most libraries won’t order them because they are expensive compared to other similar books from traditional publishers and because there is no discount available to libraries. Readers browsing the book sections of outdoor stores like REI would probably be interested, but these stores will never carry them because of the price and lack of distributor discount. I think it would be possible to find a traditional publisher, but that involved a huge investment in time and plenty of persistence. Right now Johnson’s time and energy for this project are taken up with his ongoing research. He is all too aware that time is running out for primary source research. Of the subjects of his first three books, only Dale Johnson is still living.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 4, 2010 in Books and Reading


Tags: , , ,