Full Circle: Jon Waterman


When I think back to my formative time as a young Alaskan climber, I’m often filled with memories and nostalgia that are overwhelming.  The wonder I felt when I first roped up to cross a boundless icefield, littered with crevasses, and dotted with sabre-like nunataks. My first uneasy solo climb up a 2,000 foot ice face in the western Chugach.  Seeing my life flash before my eyes when a river crossing went bad, sending me thru a turbulent cauldron of boulders and snags, only to walk away unscathed.  And the first time I felt the cold finality of death, when my 19 year old friend was buried under 15 feet of snow in Hatcher Pass.

Like many young alpinists, my early experiences in and out of the mountains were defined by a succession of monumental highs tempered with desperate lows.  Maybe that’s why Jonathan Waterman’s book, In The Shadow Of Denali – made such an indelible mark on me. The collection of short stories, which is a a mountaineering classic, followed Waterman’s years as an alpinist and mountaineering ranger on Denali in the 1970’s and 80’.  As a neophyte Alaskan climber, just out of high school – it affected me deeply.

Although I was fascinated with the climbing stories Waterman penned, I was equally entranced by the characters he described.  Tales of legendary figures like Mugs Stump and Ray Genet kept me turning the pages at a frantic pace. But it was the stories of the people living their lives in the shadow of the mountain, that hit me the hardest.  The descriptions of the hard drinking Herb Atwater, and the ill-fated journey of Gretta Berglund – painted a brutally honest picture of a darker side of Alaska.

Needless to say, the book left a lasting impression on me, and I can honestly say In The Shadow Of Denali is the most influential climbing-related book I’ve ever read.

That’s why I was excited to get a chance to interview Jon Waterman this last week.  We talked about everything – from his bitter 1982 winter ascent of The Cassin Ridge, to a 2,000 mile paddle trip across the northwest passage, as well as his new book ‘Chasing Denali’.  


• Lonely Mountain / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Fbx 1975 / Evan Phillips /  Unreleased (2017)
• Learning To Climb /Evan Phillips /  Unreleased (2017)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Holding On / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Silhouettes / Evan Phillips /  Silhouettes (2015)
• {“type”:”block”,”srcIndex”:1,”srcClientId”:”fcca7cdd-2aab-4b41-b0a5-9b3ba5627be2″,”srcRootClientId”:””}Hard Times / Evan Phillips / Cabin Vibes (2018)


Jon Waterman (Website)
Chasing Denali (2018)
In The Shadow Of Denali (1993)
High Alaska (1988)
Surviving Denali (1983)
Evan Phillips


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