A Man from a Tipi

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A Man from a Tipi
Created On: Apr 4, 2011
Last Edited On: Apr 12, 2011
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I could not believe it initially, but it is true, there are people who live in tipi year round. I knew about life in yurts, but tipis? There are no windows there. The funny conical shape makes the distribution of furniture awkward, and it is not so well insulated. Rodents get in, and who likes to sleep with mice? And as the owner told me: "Everything that lives outside, eventually comes in". Yet, I was lucky to meet such a person who enjoys the simplicity of tipi life, and its economical availability. Tipi is cheap. A price for a small tipi is several hundred dollars, and even a large tipi package with liner comes under 2000$. Obviously, much cheaper than any small house. And no utility bills!

I am going in...I am going in!
More inside the tipiCozy inside

I moved to Colorado in August of 2010, and met a tipi man, former American rock climber and alpinist Michael Covington. We met in a storage facility – yes, the downside of tipi is not much storage place. He stores his valuables and extra stuff in a storage unit, and since his tipi is among trees, it is at high risk for a forest fire. Michael told me that he always lived like that – close and at peace with the Mother Nature. He has no electricity (other than one solar panel, which feeds the electric fence around his tipi and a guest tent – to keep bears away). There is no official bathroom facility unless you count a natural tree seat with a plastic bag catching the waste. And a nearby stream provides water supply. The tipi is in a beautiful and remote place, so one has to ski or snowshoe to get up there in the winter, and when the snow settles then snow mobile works quite well up the steep hill. The worst time to get up there is after the snowmelt, when the rough and steep dirt road gets very muddy. Summer is excellent and 4WD vehicle can access it easily.

Remote locationRemote location
Guest tentGuest Tent and electric fence to keep bears away

A tipi is a conical tent traditionally made of animal skins, and associated with Native Americans. The tipi is durable, provides warmth and comfort in winter, is dry during heavy rains, and is cool in the heat of summer. Tipi can be disassembled and packed away easily. Modern tipis are made of canvas. There are many companies in USA, which offer tipis of different sizes and prices. Our tipi man has a real wood-burning stove inside, and real furniture, giving it a very warm home like feeling. The biggest disadvantage is the sloped wall making the furniture arrangement difficult, and the absence of windows. So, it is pretty dark inside. But, he loves to wake up hearing birds singing outside, hearing wind blowing into the thick walls of his canvas, or listen to the fire inside the stove.
The word “tipi” comes into English from the Lakota language, it means, “they dwell” and in practice “house”. Many modern tipi dwellers decorate their tipi in a Native American tradition.

Inside the tipiHigh bed to prevent mice climbing in
Wall decorNative American Decor
Detail of the doorDoor detail
The cone roofConical roof
Tipi EntryEntry facing east
Sitting areaSitting area
tipiNice surrounding
Natural OuthouseNatural Outhouse
Morning stretchingMorning yoga?not just stretching
Boys packing upBoys packing up
Dexter Creek Nearby Creek

Michael Covington
Born in March 1947, lived initially in California beneath Tahquitz. Tahquitz is the place, which gave him the first idea of climbing a rock. He saw people rock climbing there in 50s - it was considered as an eccentric and crazy sport in that time. There were not many rock climbers then. Michael befriended Apache kids near Tahquitz, who lived on a nearby ranch taking care of injured animals, and became really close to Native American culture thanks to this encounter. His parents got divorced when he was 9, and he chose to move with his father to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He started ski racing, and became a very good ski jumper making an alternative on US ski team. His passion for the mountains brought him back to rock climbing. Ski racing was too organized, too much bureaucracy. Michael explored initially the local Colorado rock, and befriended Layton Kor. Then eventually found his way to Yosemite. All big climbers during the 60s ended up there, and this is where he met with Royal Robins, Steve Roper, Alan Steck, Kim Schmitz, and many other climbers. He had a period of being a rock star – in early 70s he befriended Arty Garfunkel and Paul Simon, and performed at concerts. His dream was to make enough money for climbing. He loved music, but his passion for the mountains was much stronger. Music started to take too much time, and he did not like the pop star atmosphere.

Michael CovingtonMichael in his 20s
White ApacheMichael in his 60s = White Apache

Some notable accomplishments: He held a speed climb record on The Nose of El Capitan for 7 years (1968-1974), and was portrayed in a film “The Edge” where together with Yvon Chouinard he climbed the first direct ascent of Diamond Couloir on Mount Kenya, 1975.
1976 he met with Dough Scott, and climbed with him in Colorado, and then went onto two expeditions on North Face of Nuptse with him. 1977 was on expedition to
Dhaulagiri with Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler, and Otto Wiederman. Michael retired from competitive rock climbing/alpinism carrier in his 30s, and continued working as a mountain guide. He owned a company Fantasy Ridge and took his clients on challenging routes. He successfully guided Cassin Ridge, West Rib and South Buttress on Denali. In 1980s he employed 22 guides, and organized trips all over the world: South America, Africa, Himalayas and Karakorum, and of course Rocky mountains N.P. and Ouray ice climbing courses. But there is a lot more he did not tell me, and hopefully will one day write down in his book.
Information obtained from many conversions with Michael, but he does not like to talk about himself. He prefers a quiet life in the mountains.

Fun in the natureWine and fun around tipi
Simple relaxed lifeRelaxing in hammock

Back to the tipi – I was truly impressed with the simplicity and economical availability of this type of living. One can make life in tipi more comfortable. Some people have even running water and bathrooms inside these structures (although it is more common in yurts). The tipi, the guesthouse and the surrounding land seem like a dream vacation spot. But, would we be able to live like this year round? Would we be able enjoy the quiet life without Internet and TV. What are our priorities?

External Links

Earthworks tipis
Interview Michael Covington with Dave Krupa in Talkeetna


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A Man from a Tipi

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