Marty Raney

Sep 13, 2011
Outside Magazine

   Photo: David Hanson

Marty Raney

Marty Raney, 54
Lives in: Wasilla, Alaska (born in Kansas City, Missouri)
Profession: Contractor. my card says “singer, songwriter, log builder, stone mason, mountain guide,”—with a comma at the end.
Favorite part: That was just by shear survival, to live in Alaska without a government job or oil-field job. You have to be diverse to make it. I never dreamed it’d be like this. I’ve got two log homes to build, a stone house to build, and a record to produce (Strum It from the Summit). I want to enter the Alaska Film Festival this winter, so I need to finish a project I’ve been shooting for since 1986 up here on Denali.
Least favorite: The Bible says, “Work is a gift from God.” Look at this hill—[Points to the Headwall on West Buttress from 14,000-foot camp]. This is going to be the hardest thing I do this year.
What do you like to do in your free time: Backcountry skiing and, of course, recreational climbing in the Talkeetna Mountains—Hatcher Pass. That place has been a centerpiece of our whole family. I have a wife and four kids. My son and daughter have won world extreme-ski competitions. So Hatcher Pass—we were just a poor family, and a ski resort was too pricey, so we got into backcountry. We created some monsters out at Hatcher Pass. My son is biking the world solo now. Every member of my family has climbed McKinley. They just did it on their own.
If you could travel anywhere: I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m living “kid-cariously,” through my kids. That’s a really good question, and it’s got my attention. My kids figured it out young and I still haven’t, I guess.
If you could write a book: The Best Things in Life are Free. It’d be about the ultimate happiness, fulfillments that have nothing to do with money and commerce, and the kind of life that we think is important.
The last meal you ate: Granola with goat’s milk. Coffee from China that a guy poached from a Polish guy. (See, all these international tentacles up here…)
Are you religious: Yes, Christian
Any regrets: I wanna meet the man who answers that question “No.” I’d mimic what he did exactly. I’m extremely blessed, but to say I don’t have regrets would be a lie.
Trick of the Trade: I would defer that to my association with Vern Tejas. I climbed McKinley two or three times before I met him. He’s climbed it like 40 times and the seven summits nine times over. My association with Vern has been almost lifesaving. The things I always remember are: “Hydrate or die,” “Patience is a virtue; a little won’t hurt you,” and “The summit is only halfway.”

Marty is a presence on the mountain. He is tall and powerful, usually clad in his blue-black full-body Gore-Tex suit, white cowboy hat on top. When I saw him, his beard was often frosted or looked that way with the density of gray hairs. He was always boiling water and serving tea and cider to anyone who visited his tent. He had many visitors, since Marty’s name and his personality move quickly through a small camp community, and the sounds of Marty’s guitar or harmonica acted like a homing device.

I first noticed Marty and his crew at 11,000 camp. Their patrol name was Deadliest Cash. Marty liked the play on words, since one of his crew was Brian Young, a prolific halibut fisherman from Kodiak Island.

Marty and crew got bogged down at 14 Camp when one of their members didn’t feel strong. Marty liked to take things slow and safe, so they weren’t moving to 17 Camp (High Camp) until they had a good weather window and everyone was in full health. Brian felt strong and wanted to go for the summit, so he joined his neighboring climbers, two men from Tijuana, Mexico—Ignacio and Juan—and they climbed to 17 Camp.

On June 9, the Tijuana men and Brian left 17 Camp for the summit. They returned at around 9 a.m. on June 10. Brian talked with Tucker, the park ranger at 17 Camp at the time, and told him it was a great climb and he was going to lie down in the tent. He didn’t tell Tucker about his vomiting and stumbling during the summit push.

Soon after Brian lay down, his heart stopped beating. His tentmates called in Tucker and crew, who performed CPR. But Brian never revived. My patrol replaced Tucker’s at 17 Camp later that day. By that time, Brian’s corpse was in a body bag. We carried it to a snowy knoll above 17 Camp, overlooking Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker. We buried it in a shallow snow grave until the helicopter could lift it off.

The last time I saw Marty was the next day, back down at 14 Camp, where he had remained with his other crew. Marty had just been told of Brian’s death and was coming into the Park Service tent to be briefed. He had to stop outside the door to the tent. He grabbed my arm as he bent over double at the waist of his blue-black suit, speechless and nearly crumpled by the loss.