For five days last month, Chris Kopczynski and his wife, Michelle Mullin, hiked and boated 46 miles of Oregon’s Rogue River.
“That was wild,” the 73-year-old said.
And Kopczynski knows wild.
As a young man, Kopczynski – known as Kop to many – was one of the world’s preeminent mountaineers. He and Spokane native John Roskelley became the first Americans to climb Eiger’s North Face in Switzerland and led an all-Spokane climbing expedition to Makalu, on the border between Nepal and China, in 1980, an achievement recognized by the American Alpine Club as one of the 10 most significant climbs of the past century.
Unlike Roskelley – who made a career of writing books and speaking about his high-altitude exploits – Kop ran a successful construction business in Spokane, rarely speaking and writing about his exploits.
That all changed this year when Kopczynski self-published a memoir, “Into Thin Hair: Diary of a Mountain Climber.” Part regional and familial history, part adventure yarn, Kopczynski said he wrote it for his more than 100 first cousins (this is not an exaggeration) who “were interested in my travels.”
“If I were asked who I thought was the most underrated American mountaineer, I would not hesitate to say Chris Kopczynski,” Roskelley writes in the book’s foreword. “His summits and attempts that fill this book speak for themselves. But there is so much more to this man’s personality I never knew.”
Kopczynski published the book in February expecting it to sell at most 50 copies. Since then, he’s sold more than 650 copies of the humorous and engaging book, which was edited by former The Spokesman-Review Outdoors editor Rich Landers.
And in June, Globe Pequot, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield, agreed to publish the book after one of Kopczynski’s daughters, Jae, negotiated a deal with the publisher.
The republished book will be titled “Highest and Hardest: A Mountain Climber’s Lifetime Odyssey to the Top of the World” and will be published in February and distributed by Falcon Guides.
Per the terms of his agreement, Kopczynski can sell his self-published book locally until mid-November.
All that interest has blown Kopczynski away.
“The feedback I’m getting is pretty cool. People who don’t climb, they’ve told me they just keep reading, they can’t put it down,” he said.
That was his goal, to “communicate what it was like to climb these giant mountains when there were no guides, no fixed ropes, no nothing.” And while the book contains plenty of hair-raising stories and tales of endurance (the first winter ascent of North Idaho’s Chimney Rock was particularly heinous), it also delves into deeper truths – truths that aren’t unique to climbing.
Two in particular? Honestly and attention to detail. Attempting to scale some of the highest and most dangerous peaks in the world required a level of personal – and interpersonal – honesty rarely found on flat land, Kopczynski said.
“(Climbing) taught me to bring my A game to the table every single day,” he said. “There just isn’t any room for mistakes in the climbing process, and that translated into my work ethic and in dealing with people.”