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Minimum Thermometers on Mt. McKinley


Minimum thermometers on Mt. McKinley. The thermometers left on Mt. McKinley by the Parker-Browne expedition and by the party of Archdeacon Stuck have been the cause of much speculation. That of the former expedition had been placed “in a crevice on the highest rock of the main ridge … ”1Archdeacon Stuck looked for it the following year, 1913, among the last, but not the highest, rocks on the N.E. ridge. When he discovered his mistake, fatigue was so great that he “would not climb up again for fifty thermometers.”2 In 1942 Captain Bates and Captain Jackman, of the U. S. Army Alaskan Test Expedition spent half a day fruitlessly searching for the thermometer in all likely places.

Archdeacon Stuck left a minimum thermometer beside his cache below Browne Tower.3 The minimum marker of this thermometer, when found by the Lindley-Leik expedition in 1932, was withdrawn into the bulb, which Stuck had stated would require a temperature of -105° F.2 Although this finding has been given wide publicity, it is doubtful that any significance can be attached to it since the hair in a minimum thermometer might be worked in either direction by the continued flow of the liquid caused by changing temperature.

Upon descending the mountain for the last time, we paused to place our two minimum thermometers on the rock shown in plates 1 and 2. This rock is located on the ridge crest about 50 yards below the rock on which Stuck placed his thermometers.4 Plate 3 shows Stuck’s cache rock which was also used by the Lindley-Leik party in 1932 to mark their cache.5 Plate 4 shows Capt. Bates and Mr. Nilsson standing below this rock with Browne Tower in the background. This picture was taken from the foot of the rock on which the two thermometers were placed.

These thermometers were firmly placed in a crack near the top of the rock around which a rope was tied. Care was taken to place the bulb end slightly higher than the rest of the tube so that any motion of the hair caused by flow of the thermometer liquid would tend to be towards higher rather than lower temperatures. The two thermometers are intended to guard against fortuitous behavior of either, but we realize that they might not be adequate.

The temperature two feet below the surface of the snow on the summit of Mt. McKinley on July 24th, 1942 was -16° F. Since it was changing only slowly with depth, the value is possibly near the average temperature on the summit. Minimum temperatures observed by the U. S. Army Alaskan Test Expedition on the upper portions of Mt. McKinley were about 20° F. lower than temperatures at equivalent heights over Fairbanks, Alaska, during the same period. It is now known that lower temperatures are to be expected in quiet air pockets near the ground than on wind swept summits of high mountains.

Sterling B. Hendricks

1The Conquest of Mt. McKinley, Belmore Browne, p. 349.

2The Ascent of Denali, Hudson Stuck, pp. 106-107.

3Ref. 2, pp. 119-120.

4Ref. 2, photograph opposite p. 72.

5The Lindley-Leik cache was on the S. side of the rock, while that of Stuck was “at the foot or W. of the upward facing side of the great slab.” We did not search for Stuck’s cache, being unaware of its exact location, and apparently did not find all of the one left by Lindley-Leik. Grant Pearson remembered leaving a 5-gallon can of gasoline under the portions of the cache that we discovered.