Up at Altitude, by M. John Fayhee

Review by Ed Quillen

Mountain Life – July 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Up at Altitude – A Celebration of Life in the High Country
by M. John Fayhee
Published in 1994 by Johnson Books
ISBN 1-55566-134-3

This is altitude with an attitude, or to put it another way, if you like Hal Walter’s work in Colorado Central, you’ll probably enjoy this collection of essays — up to a point.

Fayee is “editor at large” of the Summit Daily News and lives in the fast lane along the Interstate 70 Industrial Tourism Sacrifice Zone, a metropolitan strip that he calls “the High Country” as though it were remote or isolated.

This gives him some strange ideas about how things should operate. Where he lives, there are “waitrons,” trained to smile as they scurry to and from your table. When he goes south, he seems surprised that things run differently. “The service, however, was spotty… Unlike Summit County, there is a fairly substantial New Mexico-esque, hippy-dippy, Grateful Dead influence in southwestern Colorado. And, as much as I am a big fan of attitudinal and sociological diversity, the aforesaid stereotype does not translate well to the service industries.” For which some of us are grateful.

The 27 essays come in three groups: Experiences, Journalism, and Ruminations. Mostly, they relate to his adventures in and around Summit County — “Bear Tales on the Gore Range Trail,” “The Restoration of Cucumber Gulch,” “The Fine Art of Giving Directions.”

Almost any page, picked at random, will produce a happy response ranging from a chuckle to a belly-spitter. “It was a fairly large bear, as they all are when you run into them in the wild while you are by your lonesome.” “Picture the way you would cruise on foot if you were constipated for, say, twelve weeks, and you have a basic understanding of snowshoeing technique.” “In the dialectic pantheon of the High Country, few words, besides maybe `eviction’ and `DUI,’ carry a wider array of mutually understood connotations, denotations, and oh-my-God-not-again-notations than `company.'”

But just when I’d get comfortable with Fayhee, he’d annoy me with his condescension. As a shaggy member of the “chattering class,” I enjoyed my visits to Leadville during the Shining Times before Climax closed in 1982, but he says it was “a working mining town that registered 9.9 on the Richter scale of redneckedness.”

And now, blessed by the proximity of Fayhee and companions, “Leadville is evolving into a bedroom community for Summit and Eagle counties, meaning there are more people than ever living in Leadville whom I might actually have something in common with.” Somehow, I don’t feel as good about this as he does.

Fayhee generally has a mountain jock approach– the Rockies are here to be climbed, snowshoed, skied, raced, biked, road-tripped, etc., by enlightened people like him and his friends–and that wears thin after a while.

So take this book in small doses, one essay at a sitting, and enjoy.

–Ed Quillen