Survivor, the long (down and dirty) history of the Mountain Gazette
Mountain Gazette has been a free-form, free-spirited favorite publication of many literate free-form, free- spirited Westerners since it was born in the mind of the brilliant editor, Mike Moore, who made it into what many consider the best alternative mountain lifestyle print publication ever seen in America. It lived a vibrant existence from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. There had certainly never been anything remotely like it. Northern Lights, published in Montana, had a similar format to MG and was certainly more literary but not nearly as experimentally counter-culture as MG. Some of the most enjoyable writing about mountains and mountain people (and deserts, fish, coyotes, skis, rivers, mines, dancing, drinking, Buddhism, climbing, the human potential, roads and many other subjects of interest and presence) was printed with an irreverent glee worthy of Ryokan in the original incarnation of Mountain Gazette.
It was a critical success, each issue eagerly anticipated and thoroughly read and then discussed by its small but widely dispersed circle of subscribers. Now that I think about it, many of these discussions took place around tables in local pubs and bars.
Alas, it was not a financial success. To give you an idea: Ed Abbey, probably the best known and most financially solvent regular contributor to the original Mountain Gazette, often enclosed a check with his manuscripts. Abbey was that kind of guy.
Mike Moore and Mountain Gazette changed my life and path by offering me a place to develop and regularly publish the kind of writing I most enjoyed and thought most valuable but could not get published elsewhere. Though I had been writing since childhood, little of it ever made it to print, and there is nothing like getting work published somewhat regularly to encourage and inspire a writer. It happened in the winter of 1971 in an odd way. I was working as a coach for the U.S Ski Team and had resigned in the middle of the season in what I considered (and consider) an ethical protest over the self-destructive, obtuse, politically driven, arbitrary, stupid, unfair and wasteful policies and administrators of the U.S. Ski Team. In that particular but by no means unusual case the ski team destroyed the racing career and damaged the life of the best U.S. downhill racer of the time. (Resigning in protest from the U.S Ski Team didn’t do my coaching career or my marriage---my wife was pregnant at the time and I needed the work---much good either, but, though that is another story, it was the right thing to do and I never regretted it, though some of the consequences were heavier than, say, the powder snow of a powder skier’s dreams.)
After my resignation, Bill Tanler, the founder and then editor of Ski Racing, asked me to write a piece explaining my reasons for such a rash, career crippling move. I did. Tanler decided that what I wrote was too “politically sensitive” to print in his publication, but he was good enough to pass it on to Moore who published it in what was then called Skier’s Gazette, the office of which was located in a small room in the basement of the same Denver building that housed Ski Racing. Moore titled it “The Greening of a Ski Coach,” a more palatable designation than the one I had given it, something like “Dinosaurs, Nazis and Cretins of American Ski Racing,” which, perhaps, is indicative of why I was having problems getting my writings published in the mainstream media.
Shortly after that Moore changed the name to Mountain Gazette to reflect the expanding range of subjects appearing in its pages, skiing being but one area of interest to readers and contributors alike. Skiers were buying Skiers Gazette and complaining that there was nothing about skiing in it, and the publication was growing in ideas and scope if not in profits. “The Greening of a Ski Coach” was well received by skiers and ski racers and ski coaches though not by U.S. Ski Team boosters. Moore asked me to write a piece about a Joan Baez concert I had attended in Berkeley, which is a long way from skiing and even mountains; but it suited the publication and the Vietnam era time of protest and social questioning and change. He liked the Baez concert piece and after that he asked that I write about anything that came to mind as often as I wanted.
I did. I wrote about coyotes, mutant skis, ski racing, Europe, night driving, hypocrisy in climbing ethics, climbing Half Dome, acid trips, road trips, mind trips, hesitation, Gary Snyder, Buddhism, the Disney Corporation, speed skiing and medicine. Twice I sent Moore hundred page manuscripts which he published. (Most manuscripts to most publications were in the 10 to 20 page range. Today’s literary tastes in most magazines are composed of 5 to 10 page features surrounded (padded) by dozens of 50 to 250 word sound bite featurettes.) Many writers, photographers and artists, including Lito Tejada-Flores, Barry Corbett, Galen Rowell, Edgar Boyles, Bob Chamberlain, Robert Reid, George Sibley, Pudim (cartoonist for the Jackson Hole News), Doug Robinson, Sheridan Anderson, N.E.D., David Roberts, Joe Kelsey, Jeremy Bernstein, Ted Kerasote, Gary Snyder, Bruce Berger, Peter Miller, John Jerome, Rob Schulteis and others made Mountain Gazette into a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west publication.
Moore was a dark-haired, bearded, soft and deliberate spoken Teddy Bear of a gentle man with a keen intellect, sensitivity and curiosity about people and the rip tides of existence, a finely tuned bullshit detector and a fierce appreciation for the drinking life. One year he taught a course for the alternative community college in Denver. The course was called something like “Literature and Drinking,” and Moore met his students one night a week in a different Denver bar, usually on Colfax Avenue. I visited Mike and his family in Denver sometime in the 1970s (that decade sort of runs together) and went with him to one of his literature and drinking classes of six or eight students. It was held in a western bar with live band, dance floor, and a nearly full house of dancing, drinking buckaroos and buckarettes doing a 1970s Denver wild-west good time drugstore cowboy stomp with enthusiasm and abandon.
For the first hour the group discussed “A Fan’s Notes” by Fredrick Exley and “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry, both on the all star list of alcoholic writers who wrote like angels about their demons. One critic described Exley’s novel as “…a memoir with a wink---a sort of ‘Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ for self-loathing depressive alcoholics.” Lowry, whose best known work was made into a fine movie, spent several years of his life living, writing and drinking in Mexico, and is the source of the quote, “They tell you that you’ll lose your mind when you grow older. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss it very much.” That gives you an idea of the context of the Mike Moore literature class, but the books were discussed with shrewdness, intelligence and insight, and it was a great deal more interesting and fun to me than my university graduate school classes devoted to things like Edmund Spencer’s “The Faerie Queene” had been. And, of course, after the first hour in the western bar it was even more fun, though likely not so interesting to those outside the class. Moore and I had a couple of editing disputes over some of my writing, one of which lasted four years, but 90 percent of the time he was right, including his criticism of “Coyote Song” which after four years of literary disputes reached print.
The tensions between operating a successful artistic and literary publication that was at the same time an economic disaster, kept alive only through financial life support (more on that shortly) contributed to Moore burning out. Editors of alternative publications tend to burn out shortly before their publications. He left MG and went off to wintertime Scotland with his wife, Sandy, the publication’s art editor, and their children, in search of warmth, inspiration, a good night’s sleep and a resolution of family problems. After some adventures in the New York magazine publishing scene, some wandering even so far as Berkeley, a return to Colorado and a failed attempt a few years later to revive MG which had folded in his absence (more on that later) he eventually settled in Vermont (sans family but with a lovely woman who was and is a successful painter) where he edited and published books for several years. Then, as is only fitting for a counter-culture icon, he seems to have dropped out of even the counter culture and rumors are that he neither edits, reads nor even gardens any longer, but has succumbed to an infatuation with golf. Moore is sorely missed by friends and fans in the world of alternative mountain publications.
Gaylord Guenin took over from Moore. Guenin moved the Gazette to Boulder, Colorado where he fiercely but gently nursed it through its last issues before the financial angel, Aspen’s George Stranahan who had kept it alive, pulled the plug. Guenin, who has lived in Woody Creek outside Aspen since shortly after the Gazette’s demise, is known as “the erstwhile mayor of Woody Creek,” (as Stranahan is its patriarch) was a friend and chemical enhancement buddy of the late Hunter S. Thompson and was a suitable lifestyle and literary heir to Moore as editor of MG. In the late 1980 and early ‘90s he was a regular feature at the Woody Creek Tavern. Guenin had the smiling, lined (nay, grooved) face of many hard miles in the style of James Baldwin, Jim Bridwell and Fred Beckey, though to my knowledge he was never a climber. Under his leadership the substance of the Gazette didn’t change significantly from what it had been, and during my one visit to the Boulder offices in 1978 Gaylord orchestrated a great eating/drinking soiree at a restaurant that included Barry Corbet. Readers, contributors and staff of the Mountain Gazette mourned its passing with a well attended and raucous, sodden wake in Boulder. Old copies of the Gazette are considered collector’s items in certain circles, and bound copies of all issues are a treasure.
When life support was removed and Mountain Gazette died in 1979, it left a vacuum in mountain/western publishing. There was no place to publish 100 page manuscripts, no place to counter the perspective found in the slick outdoor/outside/manly macho journals and magazines that cater to image rather than substance and to the advertising dollars of the industry of recreation above all else rather than to the soul and heart of mountain living, mountain recreation, mountains walking for those with the eyes to see. It was a bleak time for writers, readers, poets and photographers who had become accustomed to being on either side of the eclectic pages of the west’s freest mountain journal.
One free-form, free-spirited, devotee of both Moore and MG decided to do something about it. Don Bachman a legendary Colorado based avalanche consultant, a ferocious environmental activist, skier, wanderer over peaks and through woods, avid reader and sometime writer and ex-owner/operator of a Crested Butte bar, put together his life savings and Mike Moore and the three of them set out to resurrect Mountain Gazette. Though I had followed the story at the time it unfolded and heard about it later I was a bit hazy on the details of that adventure, so I asked him to fill me in. Bachman, who at 6’6” towers over the many meetings/forums/demonstrations/marches he regularly attends on behalf of the biological and social environment of earth, now lives a more sedate life in Bozeman, Montana with his wife, the leading mycologist in Montana, replied:
“Your request sent me down a nostalgic dive into some diary notes. For what it is worth, I first discussed the MG revival with Nan Babb in the fall of 1982, and secured use of the MG name on 12/15/82 (my 44th birthday – old enough to know better). Moore consented to help with the launch (ha, we thought we could launch – but could only push off the edge into a heap) the following year in September of ’83.
“We met on November 14, 1983 in Oakland, CA – stayed with my cousins in Berkeley and visited Will Hearst III at the Examiner the next day. No luck, but free lunch.
“On to Seattle via Medford in the rain (what else) to meet with Darrell Oldham of the Seattle Weekly for lots of good, and again free, advice. From there it was on to Missoula – can’t remember who we tried to meet with, but couldn’t for some reason and thence to Livingston. Here we stayed at Tim Cahill’s place and, yes, debauchery seemed to have reigned (since I have a cryptic “drunk” notation in my notes). I do remember early in the evening remaining at the Livingston Bar & Grill after dinner and buying into a football pool to finance the rest of the way home; and, sure enough, winning $100 which I promptly had to reinvest for a round of drinks, lest I lose at least a limb at the hands (and boots) of the attendant cowboy clientele. After crawling back to Cahill’s, I couldn’t remember what I/we/they did. ...on to Rock Springs the next day and back to Crested Butte after the 10 day trip of futility.
“But not to be deterred, I somehow lured Mike and the artist, Susan, back to Colorado in early December. We did a fundraiser in Aspen at Chamberlain’s, visited Stranahan and at some point spent the evening in some dowager’s condo next to Chair One, maybe all in the same trip – I can’t remember – maybe you can. We worked damn hard that winter, at spread sheets, writer and donor contacts (Abbey was both – he submitted an essay along with $100), and concept (we’d service the Empty Quarter; viz. The Nine Nations of North America). They left on 3/1/84 and the last notation I made was disconnecting the MG phone the next day. I went back to avalanche consulting and speed skiing prep (at A-Basin this time – wiped out the course w/a fine avalanche which dusted the Avalauncher platform we shot from, and buried the timing tent). Fortunately there was also a fairly lucrative legal case I worked on that spring which helped replace the nearly $5,000 I contributed to this aborted effort. I also drove for CB Taxi in the odd moments.
“If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability – I guess – for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life.
“I’ll look forward to the article – and the New MG, if one emerges.”
Not only is there a fine Mountain Gazette style piece of writing lurking in Bachman’s notebooks of his and Moore’s travels and tribulations during the attempted resuscitation of the publication, but, in my opinion, he captured perfectly (I’ve long thought Bachman should do more writing) the ethos and operating manual for the original MG: “If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability—I guess—for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life.
Those of us who shared the determination of the righteous also shared Bachman and Moore’s disappointment, and, possibly truthfully, probably impaired ability as well. We missed MG and collected old copies when we could find them. My own writing went in a different direction. Life, literature, and all pursuits along the flagstone path went on, grateful for the time and lessons of MG, applying them to the present and using them to be attentive and ready for future challenges and lessons. So far, they still do.
And then in 2000 I received a letter from someone named John Fayhee, who I had never heard of, and he was making the first steps toward resurrecting Mountain Gazette and he wanted to know if I had any ideas, suggestions, input, and was I interested in contributing some writing if it happened. I did and I was and we started a correspondence and within six months or so Fayhee had secured financing and a staff and an office in Frisco, Colorado and put out the first Mountain Gazette in nearly 20 years. Fayhee, a bearded man of seemingly continuous movement, it turns out, was a worthy successor to Moore and Guenin. He was as energetic and even manic as Moore was deliberate, a serious and experienced journalist, a mountain person searcher for whatever it is that mountain people are searching for, and an aficionado of the bars of Summit County, Colorado, or, in truth, those of whatever county he happened to be in. Four years after he got MG back on its feet he dedicated an entire issue of the Gazette to bars. He called it the “bar issue” and he explained it in these words:
“Mountain people are flat-out bar pros. In most parts of the country, not the world, if you find yourself in a bar three, four, nine times a week, you’d be a social pariah, the card-carrying town drunk, a citizen who serves as a justified poster child for the kind of person you tell your kids to yell for help if they so much as walk by. And justifiably so. In most parts of the country, people go to bars for all the wrong reasons, and only for the wrong reasons: to slump over a bottle of Bud, bitching at the world. And, worse, they come out for all the wrong reasons.
“In mountain country, people go to bars to celebrate life, after a day of skiing or working fence or kayaking. Mountain people go to watering holes and pubs and saloons and clubs to make connections, to pick up the latest gossip, to tell tall tales that, unlike the tales told in most lowland locales, are often updated; in the mountains, new stories are told at our bars. Bars are where we huddle when we look out the window and wonder, probably subconsciously, just what we’re doing out here on the edge of civilization, up in the cold hidden valleys, far from our people, far from the ways we know.
“There is vibrancy to our bars and our bar life that you’d be hard pressed to equal in the bars of lesser lands. And that vibrancy thematically and culturally lends itself to what we hope will become an annual Mountain Gazette Bar Issue.
“I understand there are a lot of people who are going to recoil at the thought of dedicating an entire issue of Mountain Gazette to mountain bars. Of course, it’s my guess that few of those people are Gazette regulars, but, just in case one or two strayed their way over from Backpacker or Outside, let me caveat this whole thing: You’re either a bar person or you’re not, and mountain country has a high percentage of people who are bonafide, card-carrying bar people, and a high percentage of our readers are bar people.”
Fayhee resurrected Mountain Gazette with the right intention and great spirit and his own brand of frenzied energy, and it looked and acted and felt much like it did more than 20 years earlier. Not exactly, but close, and MG was still free form and spirited and provided both outlet and input for those who see and seek in the mountains that which can’t be found in the pages of slicker, more commercial and ahhhhhhh sanitized and more solvent mountain publications. Times had changed in the 20 plus years that Mountain Gazette had been out of commission. Mountain towns had changed. The ‘60s and ‘70s, in my opinion, were a great and valuable time for America and the mountain people of the west, but they were gone and could not and should not be revived or emulated. Abbey was dead and most of the old MG guard, me included, did not view or live life the same as we had in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Or, at least, those who did couldn’t remember why.
In my case, while I still organized my life around skiing, climbing, writing, wandering, reading and being attentive and ready for whatever the next adventure might become, I was sitting on a zafu every morning rather than on a bar stool at night and had limited my intake of mood, mind and consciousness altering chemicals to nothing stronger or socially/physically controversial than caffeine. Still, over the next six years I sent Fayhee several manuscripts of varying lengths, often longer than he really wanted, though none of them up to 100 pages. It took a couple of years to convince him to publish one or two of them, and one of my favorites he never did publish; but I wrote about and MG published works about vegetarianism, revisiting Yosemite, the joy of skiing, instinct, Arnold Schwarzenegger, climbing in the Yukon, backcountry skiing, Fred Beckey, a life of skiing on Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, the Prusik, ski instruction in America, Dick Durrance and several book reviews. Mountain Gazette remained my favorite venue for my own favorite work.
As a contributor and local delivery boy for MG I could make an educated guess about the current fiscal health of MG at any time by how hard it was and how long it took to get paid. My guess was that it had its 21st century financial ups and downs and that Fayhee was a better editor and writer than he was a businessman/administrator, just like his two predecessors had been in the 20th century.
Eventually Fayhee and his partners sold MG and Fayhee stayed on as editor, but he moved from Colorado to New Mexico. MG was sold again, and again. And in due time Fayhee was no longer editor and MG no longer a print publication. It is, after all, the 21st century. MG is found on the web, not on the streets or bars and newsstands of the Mountain West. MG was based in Boulder, Colorado (again) under the able editorship of Doug Schnitzspahn, part of the Virginia based Summit Publishing. Mountain Gazette continues to be a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west online publication.
Mountain Gazette, you see, is a survivor.