Alaskan Alpine Club Founder Dies


2/13/12 - Doug Buchanan was filled with hospitality, humor, wit, intelligence, incredible drive, insight, and honor. He was a rare person and character who found his center in life, and stayed there.

Doug was the founder and driver of the Alaskan Alpine Club, created when the Fairbanks-based Alaska Alpine Club failed to step up and denounce the National Park Service’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of independent climbers. Under Doug’s guidance, American Alpine Club caste-offs Robyn Erbesfield and Todd Skinner were incorporated into an Alaskan Alpine Club’s and sponsored at a World Cup climbing competition in Sheffield England (since Doug had engineered the Club’s admission into the UIAA). Thank you Robyn (who won the competition) and thank you Todd (RIP).

The Club has land, a headquarters, and room displaying climbing artifacts and personal memorabilia from climbers and epochs of the Fairbanks climbing past, all persistently collected organized and displayed by Doug.

His climbs in Alaska spanned the Hayes, Delta and Wrangell Ranges. All were done in winter, which in Doug’s definition, meant November, December, January, and the sunny, balmy month of February. Summiting on March 20 was wholly unqualified as a winter ascent. Christmas Eve was the launching date of his ascent and traverse of a 12,000 peak, far above the 60th parallel coupled with the standard “wirst winter ascent” label; many of Doug’s climbs were new routes or coveted first ascents. None were reported in the mainstream climbing rags, and this writer will perhaps be “ripped a new asshole” from the Great Beyond if this is ever printed in one. His stories of climbs in local journals used pseudonyms for all participants, and those participants were similarly coy about route details, personnel, and even the peaks themselves. Doug would’ve had the next ascensionist experience the same sense of adventure he had.

Doug was once hired to parachute onto the Arctic ice, only a couple of degrees from the North Pole. He and his comrades built a landing strip, allowing planes to land and establish a camp used to monitor Soviet submarines. To the chagrin of his employers, he also spent plenty of time at nearby a Soviet “science” camp swapping stories, making friends, drinking their vodka, and perhaps even creating the initial spark of perestroika.

He had all these adventures and so many more: crazy solo Klepper kayak trips up and down the outer and inner coasts of Southeast Alaska; skydiving in all months during the rough-and-tumble days of the Fairbanks 70’s, when minor malfunctions were not uncommon and reserve chutes were deployed more frequently than perhaps should be mentioned.

Doug always had a freezer stocked with caribou and moose, taken in his “own” highly remote and secret hunting grounds which he accessed with his Klepper, always solo, and always with more work, effort, and respect for his prey and the land than so many other “hunters”. He sat for a while on the board of the National Rifle Association, but abandoned the organization when it fell under the heel of special interests. To Doug, The National Park Service and the NRA were merely different names for very similar organizations.

An ROTC student in college, he served two combat tours in Vietnam, in the 7/17 Calvary, as a platoon leader and helicopter pilot. But Doug referred to his enemies from that time as the “farmers he killed”, and he held the military with a disdain similar to so many other organizations that Doug felt are mainly concerned with their own existences and budgets rather than their mission statements.

Doug’s last adventure was a fight with cancer, and his friends and family were joyful when he seemed to be winning. But the tide turned strongly against him these last few months, and Doug again exerted his will. Accepting his fate, he dismantled his life-support-system, with the love and support of his wonderful partner Ilo at his side. A hours later, Doug’s spirit stepped out of the airplane; no main chute, no reserve.