American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mt. McKinley Map, Second Ascent of Mt. Brooks, Second and Third Ascents of Scotts Peak Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1954

Mt. McKinley Map, Second ascent of Mt. Brooks, second and third ascents of Scotts Peak, Alaska Range. During the summer of 1953, the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and Boston’s Museum of Science completed a long series of field observations which, it is hoped, will lead to a new and accurate large-scale map of Mt. McKinley and its approaches. The large Coast Survey party, under the leadership of Lt. Commander Howard S. Cole, was equipped with two cub airplanes and two Bell helicopters. During 1952 and 1953 this group completed a first-order triangulation network from McGrath to the Alaska Railroad near Healey. The eastern portion of this survey paralleled the McKinley Park Highway and tied in to Bradford Washburn’s network at Camp Eielson and Wonder Lake. This party did no high-mountain work at all, confining their observations to stations below an altitude of 6000 feet.

Barbara and Bradford Washburn, accompanied by Chauncy W. Waldron, Jr. and Edward A. Ames (H.M.C.), spent 70 days in the mountains just east of Mt. McKinley, completing precise observations for the altitude and position of the major peaks in this area, in close collaboration with the Coast Survey party. Radio contact was maintained between the two parties, and the Boston group made considerable use of the two helicopters in establishing their advance base camps on Muldrow and Sun set glaciers.

This party made the second ascent of Mt. Brooks (ca. 11,950 ft.) on July 19th, using the same route (the N. ridge) as that followed by the Harvard party in 1952. A night was spent on the summit in a snow cave in order to capitalize on perfect early-morning survey conditions on July 20th.

Hopped from Muldrow Glacier over to Sunset Glacier (24 miles) by helicopter on July 22nd, this Boston group made the first ascent of Scott Peak (ca. 8850 ft.) on July 23rd, spent the night on the summit, and concluded survey observations there on the following morning. Scott Peak is the highest peak in the Alaska Range immediately south of Camp Eielson (Mile 65) on the McKinley Park Highway. It lies on the very backbone of the range, 33 miles east of Mt. McKinley, and occupies a position of extreme importance from a survey standpoint. It was first climbed in 1952 by David Bernays, Morton S. Wood, and Ija Korner, who followed the Sunset glacier to its head and then climbed to the summit, for the most part by way of the main central ridge at the head of the glacier. Camps were established at 5000 feet at the main bend of Sunset glacier and at the base of the ridge at about 6300 feet. No major difficulty was encountered, except in the form of incredibly rotten rock.

In 1953, when Washburn’s party planned to repeat this ascent for survey purposes, a new route was picked in order to minimize steep backpacking on this rock. Constant cloudy weather in June obscured the head of Sunset glacier; so an advanced helicopter camp was set up on June 16th (elevation 5600 ft.) near the head of the extreme western fork of the Toklat river. Supplies were backpacked from there to another camp at 7600 feet on the north ridge of Scott Peak, and Ames, Waldron, and Washburn made the first ascent to the top via the new route on June 26th (Mrs. Washburn did not join the party till July 2nd). The rock on this ridge (N.), too, was so terribly loose and treacherous that it was deemed unsafe to use as a route for packing food and equipment to the summit. For this reason, the completion of the survey work from Scott Peak was postponed until after the Brooks climb, a month later.

The July 23rd ascent of Scott Peak was made by still a third route, which successfully evaded all rotten rock. The climb was made all the way from the main bend of the Sunset glacier (5300 ft.) in a day. A low icefall near the head of the glacier was turned to the left (NW.) in order to reach the plateau at the glacier’s head, exactly as done in 1952 by Bernays’ party. The glacier was then crossed to the S. side, whence a thousand-foot climb up moderately steep snow slopes led to a 7400-foot unnamed col which is the lowest point in the crest of the Alaska Range, about a half mile south of the top of Scott Peak. The other side of this col drops away in steep ice slopes to the upper valley of the West Fork of the Chulitna river.

From this spot, instead of following the crest of the ridge to the summit of the Peak, the party kept on the Southeast side, where excellent snow slopes lead to another little snow col (8400 ft.), a few hundred yards to its right (E), from whence the top is easily reached on a beautiful snow arête. When this detour is made, all rock is avoided. It would seem that there is not a single stable rock anywhere on Scott Peak! This route is described, perhaps, in more detail than should be accorded an 8800-foot mountain, but the view from the top of this peak is so magnificent and its ascent so easy and safe from Camp Eielson, that it is hoped it can be climbed many more times in the future.

Although the lengthy computations resulting from this field work are not yet completed, it appears almost certain that Mt. McKinley will have a new official elevation of slightly less than 20,350 feet before the end of 1954.

Bradford Washburn

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