American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Traleika Glacier Area, Mount McKinley Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1957

Traleika Glacier area, Mount McKinley Range. The Parachute Brigade Alaska Expedition, consisting of Captain W. M. M. Deacock, second-in- command and meteorologist, Captain J. D. Kinloch, doctor; Lieutenant Ord Pritchard, photographer, with Captain James E. Mills as leader and geologist was sponsored by the War Office and the Mount Everest Trust and was supported by the Royal Geographical Society. Our aims were as follows: To explore the Traleika Glacier system and attempt some of the unclimbed peaks around it; to carry out a program of medical and physiological work under the advice of the British Medical Research Council; to make a geological collection for Bradford Washburn, of the Boston Museum of Science; to test army rations and service equipment; to make a record of meteorological observations ; to make a film of the expedition.

At Ladd Air Force Base, Fairbanks, we were taken over by the USAF. On 26 May the 74th Air Rescue Squadron, which also supplied rescue cover and subsequent airdrops, flew the party in a C47 to the airstrip at Minchumina, 200 miles west of Fairbanks. From here the expedition with all its equipment was ferried by helicopter across the 60 miles of tundra to the meeting place of the Traleika and Muldrow Glaciers.

By man-hauling a sledge and back-packing, we gradually moved our camps up the badly crevassed Traleika Glacier with two or three relays between each. With 24-hour daylight, we worked at night when the snow conditions were best. The cunningly concealed crevasses ran in a tortuous pattern across the glacier; in consequence, each of us broke through into them with monotonous regularity and even the sledge suffered this indignity more than once. After eight days we reached a point opposite a glacier tributary which we called the Albuhera. From a col 3000 feet above us this glacier tumbled in an ice fall to join the Traleika. Our plan was to reach the col and attempt Mounts Tatum and Carpé. The col was gained on 8 June after two days’ climbing, the party being delayed when Deacock fell 50 feet into a crevasse, from which he was successfully extricated. On 9 June after six hours of ridge climbing we made the first ascent of Mount Tatum, 11,137 feet. The return to our two-man tent on the col took 3½ hours, the last hour through a snowstorm. The proposed attempt on Carpé was frustrated by the snow which continued for another 36 hours. By lack of food we were forced to return to our camp on the Traleika.

We resumed our journey up the Traleika and pushed on up the left fork, our progress being hindered by continuing falls of snow. Since our arrival in the mountains we had been visited three times by USAF aircraft. We had radio contact, received mail, flares, and replacements for the two ice axes we had broken. The aircraft continued to come in about once a week whenever the weather was suitable and we received amazingly accurate maildrops and weather reports and exchanged news. From a camp at the head of the glacier we climbed with loads of over 70 lbs. each to a col 10,000 feet high on the rim of the mountains which enclose the Traleika. The climb of about 3000 feet took two days and in a blizzard on 21 June we established our camp there, amid a jumble of ice cliffs and crevasses. We had hoped to cross the col, but the sheer drop on the other side made this impossible. Even our alternative of attempting the two peaks that stood on either side, and perhaps of gaining a large plateau which lay to the east, was all but frustrated by the weather. The snow fell almost continuously; despite this, on 23 June Kinloch and Pritchard climbed the peak on the west of the col and named it Mount Staghorn. The other peak we called Anniversary Peak and in the only two good days made two attempts on it. In the second attempt on 26 June we reached a point 200 feet from the summit before retreating in the face of dangerous snow conditions. We were out 15 hours. The descent to the glacier was in bad weather on 27 June, and after two days spent in collecting rock specimens, a journey up to the right fork of the Traleika brought us up under the rock ramparts of McKinley. The possibility of a new route up the mountain from the Traleika was confirmed. It is hoped that the first attempt up this route will be made by an Anglo-American party. Although the route looked difficult, a glacier tributary rising steeply to a col between mounts Koven and Carpé seemed to afford access to both mountains.

On our return to camp beneath the flat-topped peak which stands at the glacial fork, we made preparations to attempt it. Standing about 13,000 feet high and dominating the glacier, we had long since named it Pegasus Peak in honour of the emblem of British airborne forces. High winds prevented an immediate attempt, but we delayed withdrawal to make the climb. At 9:15 A.M. on 4 July we stood on the summit after an ascent of almost 6000 feet in just over ten hours’ climbing. The descent was uneventful, but took us nearly eight hours.

We started the march out at midnight on 5 July. The lower glacier had changed out of all recognition in the past weeks and the enormous gaping crevasses forced us to abandon the sledge early. With 90-lb. loads we traveled for 28 hours with only three hours’ sleep to reach Cache Creek in the early afternoon of the 7th. At 4:30 P.M. the helicopter landed and flew the first two out. By way of Kantishna and Minchumina we flew back to Ladd Air Force Base, arriving at 9 P.M. that same evening.

Journeys in these mountains demand not only normal climbing techniques, but also the methods and approach of an arctic expedition. The scale is vast and certainly appears more Himalayan than Alpine. All ascents start on ice and snow and the height difference from glacier to summit is immense, usually at least 5000 feet. There is little or none of the Himalayan problem of high altitude, but then there are no porters. The choice of route must be based on the capabilities of heavily laden climbers, but even so a great deal of technically difficult climbing must be undertaken while carrying large and often awkward loads of considerable weight.

Captain James E. Mills, Parachute Brigade, Mountaineering Club

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.