American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Fairweather

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

Fairweather. Mount Fairweather (15,320 feet), one of the official boundary points on the Alaska-British Columbia border, is actually the highest point in British Columbia. Since it had never been climbed by Canadians, its second ascent was logical target as a part of the provincial centennial year celebrations.

Our party flew the 900 miles north from Vancouver in an RCAF Canso (PBY). It consisted of Paul Binkert, Fips Broda, David Blair, Joe Hutton, Dr. Dennis Moore, Walter Romanes, Paddy Sherman (leader), and Russell Yard, representing equally the Alpine Club of Canada and the British Columbia Mountaineering Club. We landed late on June 17 at Lituya Bay, some 25 miles from the foot of Fairweather, and set up a radio camp operated by Ken McMillan and George Kitson, who were in regular contact with us on the mountain and with Vancouver over a radio “ham” hookup. The RCAF dropped supplies by parachute at 3500 feet, and by the time these were collected and base camp set up at 4500 feet, it was late on June 22. The ridge-route taken by Allen Carpé and Terris Moore in 1931 (A.A.J., 1932, 1:4, pp. 429-444) seemed quite the best though it looked forbidding as it jumped 10,000 feet from the Fair- weather Glacier. On June 24 Binkert, Broda, Hutton, and Romanes climbed with heavy packs to 9200 feet, where they built a ledge for their two tents. A foot of new snow kept them inactive the next day, but at 8:30 a.m. on June 26 they started for the summit, which they reached at 9:30 p.m. after consistently steep going. The hardest problem was a 150-foot-high ice wall 500 feet below the summit, which took several hours, with pitons, to climb. The others were on the way up to the high camp when the first party was climbing. At 3:30 a.m. on June 27 as we were rising, they returned from the summit to the high. camp. The second group took 13 hours to reach the summit in good conditions. After continuous sunshine, the descent was poor and took almost eight hours.

Several days later Broda and Romanes made the first ascent of a spectacular 10,400-foot peak due west of Mount Lituya. The climb took 22 hours. The other six got within 200 feet of the top of Mount Lituya (11,750 feet), but turned back at a long knife-edge of rotten ice. Light winter snow and consistently hot weather made glacier travel almost impossible, so we returned to Lituya Bay early, having re-arranged the plane pickup by radio. We were airborne at 9 p.m. on July 9.

At 10:16 p.m., that night, a tremendous earthquake in Lituya Bay sent a tidal wave 1800 feet up the mountainsides, stripping them clean. The radio camp-site, where we had been only about an hour earlier, was also stripped to bedrock, although it was in heavy timber, and shared in the tremendous devastation throughout the entire area.

Paddy Sherman, Alpine Club of Canada

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