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North America, United States, Alaska, Pioneer Ridge, Mount McKinley

Pioneer Ridge, Mount McKinley. In June 1956 six of us made an attempt on Pioneer Ridge on Mount McKinley. The party consisted of Keith Hart (leader) the Australian, Leon Blumer, Pete Schoening, Al Krup, Keith Randall, and Donald Claunch. We left the Bar Cabin on the McKinley River, two miles from Wonder Lake on June 1. After two days with 80-pound packs we reached McGonagall Pass and the following day hiked five miles up the Muldrow Glacier to the vicinity of Gunsight Pass, where we received an airdrop. We relayed loads up the two icefalls of the glacier, where we were bothered by bad weather and crevasses and had to establish two intermediate camps. We finally pitched our advanced base camp at 10,000 feet on the fringe of the great basin below Karstens and Pioneer ridges. Snowshoes were mandatory between all these camps. (We used the long Alaskan type; our equipment also included down parkas and pants and Korean boots.) We traveled at night on the Muldrow Glacier because of excessive heat in the daytime, although higher on the mountain the temperature always dropped to zero or colder during the night. Once camp was established at 10,000 feet, we returned to Gunsight Pass to meet Schoening and Krup, who had been unable to leave until nearly two weeks after we did and had come this far alone.

On Pioneer Ridge we plowed through knee-deep snow, technically not difficult going, to place camps at 12,000 and 13,000 feet. The weather would occasionally clear up and we would find ourselves above a sea of clouds, with Wickersham Wall, one of the world’s great ice faces, towering above and below us. Schoening, Krup, and I reconnoitered in extreme cold from 13,000 feet to Taylor Spur, a very distinct promontory at 15,000 feet. Some of the climbing was in chest-deep powder and some on steep ice and broken rock, touchy but not really difficult. I believe that Pete used one ice piton. After reaching the top of the spur, we returned to our 13,000- foot camp while the others packed heavy loads up the route we had opened. That night it snowed two or three feet, covering our hard-earned steps. It took an entire day to kick steps to rejoin the rest of the party on the spur. We attempted to cross the knife-edged ridge that leads to Wickersham Glacier and the last part of Pioneer Ridge, but the unexpected steepness of the last part forced us back. Our try to cross underneath the knife edge also failed. We had to camp on a nearby col which divided the ridge, where a three-day storm, with snow and 60-mile-per-hour winds, pinned us. We abandoned our attempt there because of the avalanche danger and the lack of food and time, after having completed most of the touchy climbing. From there on, it would merely have been a matter of traversing the Wickersham Glacier and climbing the upper portion of the wall adjacent to Pioneer Ridge with another camp at about 17,000 feet.

Donald Claunch