American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Encyclopedia Brittanica

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  • Publication Year: 1931

Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition, 1929.

The following notes make record primarily of topographical errors and discrepancies found in certain topic headings dealing with the mountains of North America. In general, a lack, of editorial uniformity is noted, as well as the frequent use of obsolete data, especially in respect to altitudes.

Alaska—The following mountains are mentioned by name: Crillon, Fairweather, Vancouver, Wrangell, St. Elias, Logan, McKinley, Foraker. The first three of these are stated to be “over ft.,” whereas Alt. Crillon is only 12,727, according to the triangulation of the Alaska Boundary Commission. Mt. Wrangell, actually about 14,000 ft., is credited with 17,500. The figures 18,024 and 19,539, which are given for Mts. St. Elias and Logan, should be superseded by the Boundary Commission altitudes of 18,008 and 19,850. The statement that Alt. St. Elias is “in the Nutzotin mountains” is puzzling and must be a mistake.

The Coast range is dismissed with the statement that it “is characterized by the uniformity of summit levels between 5,000 and 6.000 ft.” Surely this is an inadequate description of a rugged range containing several summits over 10,000 ft. and a great number between 7,000 and 10,000 ft., including such spectacular peaks as Kate’s Needle and the remarkable granitic spires of the Devil’s Paw and the Devil’s Thumb. This range may yet be found to contain some of the most difficult climbing peaks in North America.

The two most notable glaciers in Alaska are said to be the Malaspina and the Muir.

The question of nomenclature of the Alaskan ranges is always an interesting one. The article under review favors the extension of the term “St. Elias range” to include “not only the mountains between Cross Sound and Mt. St. Elias but the Chugach, Wrangell and Nutzotin mountains.” It is true that the division between some of these ranges is ill-defined, notably between the St. Elias range proper and the Chugach mountains, to a lesser degree between the St. Elias and Wrangell ranges. But by the same token the Coast range proper merges with the southeastern end of the St. Elias range around the head of Glacier Bay and the Lynn Canal, and the Talkeetna, Kenai and Chigmit mountains are but indistinctly divided from the Chugach and Wrangell ranges in the west. As a matter of fact, the whole southern coast line of Alaska is lined by an almost continuous mountain system, of which the. various named ranges arc part. There is need for a more precise nomenclature, but can this need be met by merely extending the term “St. Elias range” to include territory more and more remote from Mt. St. Elias itself? The “Coast range” would be a better generic term, and has actually sometimes been so used.

British Columbia—This unsigned article retains the obsolete elevation for Mt. Robson (13,068 instead of 12,972) and states that Alt. Alberta is 13,500 ft. high instead of 11,874 as surveyed. Alt. Fairweather is given as 15,287 instead of the Boundary Commission figure, 15,399. The big unclimbed peak in the coast range, Alt. Waddington, is called Alt. George Dawson, but is accorded the correct elevation. No mention is made of any of the interior ranges (Selkirks, etc.).

Canada—The section dealing with the mountains is ably handled by Dr. A. P. Coleman. Few specific elevations are mentioned. Those of Mt. St. Elias and Mt. McKinley are rounded off to 18,000 and 20,000 ft., respectively, a procedure which might create an unjustified presumption of uncertainty in the case of the latter. The accepted height of 20,300 appears to be well-founded.

Selkirk Mountains—A brief and inadequate article. “Their outline is rounder and less serrated than that of the Rockies. … They do not rise much above 10,000 ft.” The Selkirks contain 40 peaks above 10,000 ft., four of which rise above 11,000 ft.

Canadian Rockies—Also a short and quite insufficient article. It gives Mt. Robson a height of 12,975 ft. (possibly misprint for 12,972) and speaks of all the other Canadian ranges (including even the Coast range) as “adjoining groups.”

A. C.

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