American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount St. Elias

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1959

Mount St. Elias. On June 19, 1958 Leo Slaggie, David Toland, Ritner Walling, and Raymond D’Arcy were landed by Yakutat pilot Don Vent near Point Manby, by the west shore of Yakutat Bay, to march eighty miles to attempt a new route on Mount St. Elias. With sixty-pound packs we reached the base of the West Buttress in ten days, via the Malaspina Glacier, Seward Trough, and the Seward Glacier, successfully retrieving three air-drops and leaving caches en route. Slaggie and D’Arcy climbed a 6000-foot peak near Point Glorious on June 23. Base Camp was at 8000 feet near the bottom of a large ravine separating the West Buttress from a 12,500-foot summit still farther west (“Windy Peak”). Two attempts established a route to 10,500 feet in this ravine over fairly difficult snow and ice. An overhanging ice wall, 100 to 200 feet high which stretched from one avalanche zone to another across the ravine, proved the last straw, technically, on this proposed route. Accordingly, on July 4 we reconnoitered the northwest snow-face of Windy Peak. In four days, using an intermediate camp, we relayed two loads each to Camp II, just below and slightly west of the summit of Windy Peak. During lulls in the eight days of storms which followed, we made a route down a 1500- foot rock-ridge leading from the top of Windy Peak toward St. Elias, using 250 feet of fixed rope. The severe earthquake of July 9 found us all safe in Camp II. In apparently clearing weather, on June 15, the entire party began to move camp down the ridge, aiming to cross the rounded snow-crest of the ravine headwall and ascend to a 13,500-foot snow shoulder just to the southwest of the West Buttress. A swifty developing blizzard forced us to camp on the lee slope just below the snow ridge at about 12,500 feet.

Here, on July 18, after two days of repeatedly buried tents, temperatures to —10°, and winds too strong to stand against, Walling and D’Arcy found Slaggie unconscious in the entrance of his storm-buried tent. Toland had suffocated inside, though he had tried unsuccessfully to dig out. Slaggie was revived and his frostbitten hands and feet thawed, but Toland never regained consciousness, even after four hours of artificial respiration.

We began our descent during a brief lull that afternoon. Although Slaggie needed assistance only on the more difficult sections of the rock ridge, continued storms, with persistent white-outs and waist-deep powder-snow, made us take four days for the descent to Base Camp. On July 22 our weather-delayed seventh air check arrived and we signaled for a landing on the Seward Glacier. On July 25 we were flown to Yakutat.

Raymond D’Arcy, Harvard Mountaineering Club

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