American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, U.S., Alaska, Mt. McKinley

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1955

Mt. McKinley. When we, Jaq Lasner, Norm Saunders, and I, all students at U.C.L.A., first thought of trying McKinley, our main consideration was money. By cutting here and there, we finally managed to bring the cost of the climb, from Los Angeles to the summit and back, down to $200 apiece. The other problem was that there were only three of us and four is a minimum for the peak. Fortunately we were put in touch with Woody Sayre and Norm Hansen from Boston, who were in the same fix. They met us at McKinley Park.

We drove our ’46 Chevy carryall 4000 gasping miles to the base of the mountain, arriving at Wonder Lake on July 14, 1954, to try the usual route: McGonagall Pass, Muldrow Glacier, Karsten’s Ridge, Denali Pass. After struggling, occasionally submerged, through the McKinley River with 1100 lb. loads, we decided to relay up to the head of the Muldrow Glacier. Although mosquitoes and rain played the major roles during the 20 miles of tundra up to McGonagall Pass, we had all our gear and food, 50 lbs. of each per person, on the pass by the fifth day. Going was slow on the lower glacier, which was covered with three feet of powder snow instead of the expected moraine, but later on the new snow helped strengthen the dwindling snow bridges of the first and second sérac areas. Ending our relaying and leaving skis and snowshoes, we took ten days of supplies in 40 lb. loads apiece up two-mile long, 4000-foot high Karsten’s Ridge. The climb from the Muldrow at 10,500 feet took 18 hours and ended in our becoming completely exhausted during a violent storm on the Coxcomb. The ridge was in perfect condition on its very crest, but otherwise it was ice under three inches of snow. Our 14,400-foot camp at Browne’s Tower was too exposed in the continuing storm, so we moved it to the shelter of a crevasse on the south side of the Harper Glacier about a quarter of a mile above the Tower. Unfortunately, it proved to be too sheltered since two snow slides dumped on it during the night. Luckily they were just accumulations of snow dropping off the lip of the crevasse, but they buried Woody in his tent under six feet of snow and it took two hours to dig him out.

The same day the storm ended and we moved midst howling winds to put a high camp at 16,400 feet on the Harper Glacier. August 3rd, our 20th day, proved to be sparkling blue with not a cloud overhead. We all started for the top at 7 A.M. By noon we were at Denali Pass, 18,400 feet, but Norm Hansen and Woody Sayre were very tired and at 19,000 feet they turned back. Since we were only 1000 feet from the top and the weather was perfect, we decided to try for the top. We ran into a short but severe storm at 19,800 feet but reached the summit in the clear golden light of the lingering sun at 6:30 P.M. Leaving the beautiful summit after a half hour, we returned to camp in three hours. After moving their tent the next day to Denali Pass, Woody and Norm climbed to the top the day after, returning August 6th to the high camp. The descent was made in the continuing clear weather, and we arrived at Wonder Lake on August 10th, the 27th day of the trip.

Jon H. Gardey

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