American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Alaska and the Yukon, The 1952 Harvard McKinley Expedition

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

The 1952 Harvard McKinley Expedition. The five members of the Harvard McKinley Expedition, Frederick L. Dunn, John Noxon, John Smith, Stephen Den Hartog, and I, all members of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, left Cambridge on June 11th, arriving in Fairbanks on the 23rd of that month. From there by car, train, and with horses we were established at our base camp in McGonigall Pass (5500 ft.) on July 1st. Throughout the next 17 days we established four camps: the first, four miles beyond McGonigall Pass on Four-Mile Moraine; the second, on the northern slopes of the Mudrow Glacier below the Hill of Cracks, at about 7000 feet; and the last, in the upper basin of the Muldrow below the Harper Icefall at 10,500 feet.

Instead of using the original route for the northeastern approach to Mt. McKinley, which goes along the southern side of the Muldrow Glacier below Mt. Koven and Mt. Carpe, we followed up the northern side where there is less danger of avalanches from above and where it is possible to avoid one icefall. Throughout this period the weather on the lower parts of the mountain was good; we found that we could go without a rest day for five days, the usual length of a spell of good weather.

Our first trip up Karstens Ridge was cut short at 13,000 feet by a storm that made us cache our loads and retreat to our lower camp. On the 19th, however, the weather changed, and during that day and for two more we had beautiful weather, the only good weather for the last half of the month. In those three days we established our Camp 6 at 16,400 feet, and after two days of wind and snow we took advantage of a six-hour lull to move camp up to 17,400 feet, our high camp. After four days of storm we again took advantage of a break in the bad weather to try for the summit, at least to go as high as Denali Pass to look over the other side. We succeeded in reaching the Pass (18,000 ft.) and going on up as high as 19,500 feet before we again went into the clouds that had hung over the summit. With no visibility and considerable wind and cold we decided to return to camp, determining to come back the next day if the weather improved. It snowed hard the following morning and, since we had left supplies for only two days, we packed up camp and returned to our supply cache at 14,500 feet, only to find that because of bad weather we could not get down the Cox Comb to the upper part of the ridge.

After waiting two days we arrived at our camp site at 10,800 feet and on August 5th, after 40 days on the mountain, we arrived at Wonder Lake, having gained the experience in organization and climbing techniques that we wanted. None of us had been ill nor felt any discomfiture from elevation, and all agreed that we wanted to go oil on another summer’s trip together.

H. S. Francis, Jr.

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