American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mountains of Northern Alaska

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1942

Mountains of Northern Alaska

The general name, Brooks Range, covers the several mountain groups in Alaska N. of the Arctic Circle. The highest triangulated peaks, now known, are probably Mt. Chamberlin in the Franklin Mts., and Mt. Michelson in the Romanzof Mts., both about 9200 ft., and in Lat. 69° 17', Long. 144° 53' and 144° 15' respectively. Neither are impressive in appearance.1

Robert Marshall, author of the book Arctic Village, tells in a later pamphlet of reaching Mt. Doonerak (Lat. 68°+, Long. 151°) 70 odd miles N. of Wiseman after a stiff back-packing trip. He estimated Doonerak at 10,000 ft. and reported that it would be a very difficult climb. His party, containing no experienced mountaineers, didn’t seriously attempt it.

My curiosity aroused, by Marshall’s report of so high and formidable a peak in a region which had been popularly supposed to contain no peaks over 6,000 ft. and no glaciers, I determined to see for myself. Accordingly on August 12th last, I flew N. from Fairbanks to Wiseman, distant about 175 miles, and thence N. again to the Endicott Mts., first crossing the range until we could look down over the flat plains only 100 miles from the Arctic Ocean. We had passed a good-looking rock peak on the way N. which was still below us as we flew at slightly over 8000 ft. We then swung to the E. seeing many more peaks and several small valley glaciers up to three miles in length flowing toward the Arctic. There were broken cumulus clouds, but we flew between or above them at 10,500 ft. We saw no peaks approaching 10,000 ft. After an hour of flying over this remote unmapped range we returned to the peak seen on the way N., circled it several times taking photographs, determined its altitude at roughly 7500 ft. and flew back to Wiseman. There we talked with Harry Snowden (an Eskimo whose native name is Nutirwik), who had been with Marshall, and he said at once that we had picked the right peak for Doonerak. It seemed to me that the peak, a rock tower rising boldly on all sides, would afford a good climb of 3000-4000 ft. from the lake in a basin at its W. foot. The outlet of the lake goes over a high cliff. Were the lake slightly longer to assure a safe take-off after landing with pontoons, the climb would be worth making. It is hardly worth the back-packing involved now (at least one week in each direction), until more accessible peaks have been done. Few, if any, of the other peaks seen would present any climbing difficulties.

H. S. H., Jr.

1 See U. S. G. S. Professional Paper 109 on The Canning River Region, Northern Alaska.

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