Review: ‘Learning the Ropes’ by Mike Gordon


‘Mountain Mike” Gordon has penned the ultimate bad-boy-finds-redemption story in his rollicking Alaska memoir, Learning the Ropes.

He was an Eagle Scout. His family was in the “normal” range.

But he was divorced twice. He married thrice. He was a philanderer. He was a cocaine addict, a 15-year smoker, and owned one of the most successful nightclubs in Alaska, if not the entire Northwest.

Then, he read the book, The Seven Summits by Dick Bass, and decided to climb them himself, starting with Denali. He also completed 15 marathons, and eventually six of the seven summits.

Gordon sold Chilkoot Charlie’s in 2015 and retired, now living the life of a writer with his wife Shelli in Kachemak Bay. For those who remember reading Johnny’s Girl by Kim Rich, this is another tale from seedy Spenard, with no gritty stone unturned. Shelli must be a saint to let him publish these stories.

“In truth, it wasn’t long before I was up to the old habits that would eventually lead to our separation and subsequent marriage counseling less than five years later. I had been unfaithful to both of my previous wives, so falling into the routine was almost natural for me. But this time I had myself convinced that misbehaving in Thailand was somehow different. Shelli was so young, impressionable and in love and I was such a callous bastard,” Gordon writes. Ouch. What wife wants to read that?

“I destroyed something pure and beautiful that can never be entirely repaired, but at least I had the wherewithal, plus the support of a woman stronger than me, to work my way through the issues that continued to put distance between us and damage the marriage I desired, but to which I was unable or unwilling to fully commit.” Yes, this is a story of bars, adventures, and romance. It’s a love story at its core.

The narrative jumps around a bit between his troubled romantic exploits and his mountain exploits but readers can keep up between the vignettes and where the tale is heading — the three attempts to summit Mount Everest, each one bringing him closer to the top. The stories aren’t sequential, and that’s how the author intended it.

Gordon has done a great job on this memoir and it’s easy to imagine that Hollywood might come calling to buy the movie rights of this “sex, drugs, rock and roll, and redemption” life story.

Learning the Ropes can be found at Barnes & Noble in Anchorage, or at  The author is having book signings around the state,  where he’ll pen “Mtn. Mike G.” on your own copy. See him at these locations:

May 3: Georgia Blue Gallery, 5-7 pm

May 10: Barnes & Noble, 6-9 pm

May 24: Halibut Cove, Alaska’s Experience Gallery, during the evening.


  1. Interesting read. Who has time, though, to trot around the world and climb the big peaks unless you are filthy rich from inheritance or trusts? Being guided up Everest is $75K and he never summited after three attempts. My cousin worked at “Koots” in the 80’s and 90’s. She said it was mostly a K-Mart sized meat-market. Drugs and booze a flowing like the waters. Then, misbehaving in Thailand? Children there often born into sex slavery, so I guess we know what that odyssey was all about. Anyway, if a man can find some solace with a pen after all of that, God bless him. Just hope he and his partners had STD and Aids tests.

  2. Mike Gordon’s life is as all of ours are… just what they are. His are fraught with various challenges, triumphs, and circumstances of which all he readily acknowledges. Okay, how many of us would be willing to do this and to the same definitive degree as Mike Gordon did? Personally, I wouldn’t. But he did. And in a humble and honest way. This is not simply entertainment. This deserves attention. These stores deserve respect… as their sincerity are real!

    Jack Kent

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