North America, United States, Alaska, Attempt on Mount McKinley

Publication Year: 1958.

Attempt on Mount McKinley. On June 25 an eight-man expedition sponsored by The Mountaineers, consisting of Jon Hisey, Jerry Cate, Alan Van Buskirk, Larry Heggerness, Aldon Haug, LeRoy Annis, Larry Annis, and Kenn Carpenter (leader), arrived at McGonagall Pass eight days from Wonder Lake, enroute to Mount McKinley by the usual Muldrow Glacier route. Three of the eight days were used crossing the mile-wide McKinley River whose illogical antics caused several near tragedies. Some 20 channels across its width were between two and five feet deep, and their depth changed seemingly by the hour as the swift current ate out one and filled up another. Equally frustrating was the irregular water level which rose 16 inches in a 20-hour period, and at one time four inches in two hours. Since rainfall was negligible, the strange run-off can only be attributed to the phenomenal glacier conditions on the Muldrow.

At McGonagall Pass a new and disheartening Muldrow Glacier stretched for miles before us. Where last year’s photos show a relatively smooth glacier, there was now a continuous maze of jumbled séracs and huge crevasses 50 feet wide that stretched half a mile across the glacier. In many places the glacier had dropped hundreds of feet, as if a huge melt- cavern underneath had collapsed, leaving a 500-foot ice cliff clinging to the north valley wall, the ridge on which we were standing. With dimmed hopes we selected a route up the glacier edge, always traveling on top of the hanging ice cliff with the ever present drop-off on our left. Eight miles up the glacier and four days later we unanimously called it quits. Beyond this point, because of impending rock cliffs, we would have to go up the middle of the glacier, but there we could see absolutely no feasible route. Moreover, the hanging ice cliff by which we had just traveled was daily deteriorating. Gigantic chunks of ice, some the size of a small house, were breaking off with great regularity to go booming down to the glacier below.

On the return, two days were spent at Gunsight Pass making observations. The low point of the main glacier here was 830 feet below the pass, with the ice cliff consisting of an upper 260-foot pitch and a lower 250- foot pitch separated by a shelf 350 feet wide. From the pass we climbed Gunsight Peak on the north, and on June 30 the first main peak on the ridge to the south. Thirteen gallons of kerosene were cached at Gunsight Pass.

Kenn Carpenter, Mountaineers