You know that saying – “they just don’t make em’ the way they used to”. I guess you could call it a quintessential American expression. In the climbing world, It conjures up icons like Lynn Hill, Jim Bridwell, Catherine Freer, and Royal Robbins – just to name a few.
You know you have someone like that in your life. It’s someone who’s tough. They have a determination and resolve that’s made of granite. There’s something about them – maybe you can’t quite put it into words – but they just have an aura or presence around them – that’s larger than life.
When you meet these people, they leave an indelible mark on you. And that’s exactly how I felt this last spring, after spending a few days with a guy named Daryl Miller.
If you spent any time climbing on or around Denali back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s – surely you came across Daryl – or at the very least, you knew who he was. Back then, Daryl was the Chief Climbing Ranger on Denali – and even then, he was larger than life. His aura was equal parts military, mountaineer, and Marlboro Man – a steely gaze with a perpetual squint in his eyes from too much glacier sun.
But Daryl wasn’t just known for his daring mountain rescues. In February 1995, he and his partner Mark Stasik walked out of Downtown Talkeetna, and embarked on one of the wildest expeditions in Denali Park history. When the grizzled and emaciated duo returned 45 days later, they had become the first party to circumnavigate Denali National Park in winter – a rugged 350 mile journey that has never been repeated.
But Daryl’s life journey didn’t end with Denali. In 1997, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a condition that ultimately forced him to shift gears in his career, and eventually retire from the Park Service in 2008.
These days, Daryl lives a simpler life in Anchorage with his wife Judy and their two dogs, Raven and Jago. When I came to visit Daryl for the first time in March, he led me to a back room where we would conduct the first of our three interviews. The room is adorned with relics of a life well lived: photos of climbing expeditions near and far. Military medals, black and white stills of a young Rodeo clown. And a young man, barely out of high school, in combat fatigues in Vietnam, circa 1965.
I quickly realized that I didn’t know much about Daryl. But what I did know is that he’d probably lived 9 lives. The only question was where to start.
Cover Photo: Daryl after a 30 hour search for a patrol member above 15,000 feet on Denali, May,1994
Special Thanks to Daryl Miller