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Ode to University Peak


Robert W. Cromer, M.D.

Far to the North where the glaciers lie,

And Northern Lights sweep the summer sky,

Where the great brown bear and Dall Sheep stray,

There’s a wild land where the storm winds play.

The land of the Copper River’s birth …

Seaward slashing the tree-cloaked earth,

It’s a surging, throbbing, silt-filled flood,

An artery pulsing with glacial blood.

And river, forest, and glacier stand

As bulwarks guarding the inner land

Where primeval mountains rise, aloof,

Their cold crags clawing the cloud-streaked roof.

Towering high o’er the glacier’s head,

Rocky roots deep in an icy bed,

A pallid pinnacle cold and bleak Lifts up its desolate, snow-clad peak.

On its frozen flanks no creatures roam,

No green-growing plant makes here its home.

An insentient thing, and yet, not dumb,

It tells its tale with a timeless tongue.

The sleeping glacier shudders and groans,

And stretches its frigid, dormant bones;

The steep slopes speak with avalanche-roar;

The winds sing a song, forevermore.

There, all alone in a dead dream-world,

Where wild winds wailed and the soft snows swirled,

Circled by summits towering tall,

We camped before her mighty west wall.

We came to climb this goddess of snow;

In our tents we heard those wild winds blow.

Fiercely shrieking they laughed us to scorn,

Then stole away on the wings of morn.

She plagued us with fog and snow and sleet,

And curled herself in a soft, white sheet …

Glittering, then, shown forth in the sun

And dared us to tread where trod had none.

In vain we flouted the giant’s wrath;

Impassable obstacles barred our path:

Huge, hulking ice-walls shining and steep;

Crevasses, great chasms wide and deep.

We failed, yet failure was not defeat,

But, to taste adventure, bittersweet.

We heard the challenge. We met the call.…

And reaching the summit isn’t all.

Dr. Cromer was a member of the 1954 expedition that attempted University Peak. St. Elias Range (A.A.J., 1955, pp. 84-87), and composed this poem during the months following his return to Wisconsin. In 1955 University Peak was successfully climbed by a party of six (see notes).