American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

Mount McKinley. In 1962 six expeditions reached the summit of Mount McKinley by three different routes. Miss Bucknell was the second woman and our member, Miss Chamberlin, the third to climb the mountain. The first ascent of the Southeast Spur is noted elsewhere in this Journal. The West Buttress route was ascended on May 17 by Hans Metz, leader, Willi Schmidt, Manfred Schober, Helmut Tschaffert and Sepp Weber; on June 10 by Richard E. McGowan, leader, Luther G. Jerstad, Father Joseph U. Braig, Robert M. Lamphere, Dr. William K. Rieben, Frances Chamberlin, Dr. Nicholas Wetzel and Dennis Wignall; and on July 3 by Major Michael E. B. Banks, Ch. Tech. John Hinde and Lieutenant Hugh J. Wiltshire of the British Joint Service Alaska Expedition. Karstens Ridge was climbed by Keith Jones, leader, Lloyd G. Kenwood, Anore Bucknell, Paul H. Dix, James D. Mack and Howard J. Kantner on May 20; and by Ralph E. Mackay and Dr. Gene W. Mason on June 24.

Moose’s Tooth and Mount Dan Beard, Alaska Range. On July 4 Barrie Biven and I were flown onto the Ruth Glacier from Talkeetna by Don Sheldon. As a party of only two, our plans were modest but flexible. That evening we set off for the unclimbed Moose’s Tooth (10,335 feet), a short study from the air having convinced us that the best route was the west ridge. We reached the base of the mountain at midnight and made an easy ascent of the left-hand of two icefalls to the north of the west-ridge base, then gained the ridge above its steep and rotten base pyramid by snow slopes. We rested from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 5 on a long flat shelf overlooking the sheer south side of the ridge. Higher up, we avoided a steep buttress by a traverse across slabs on the right into an icy couloir, which we climbed for 200 feet before taking to a steep snow slope on the right. We selected a small ledge just below the corniced crest of the ridge above the buttress, where we sat out eight hours of rain and sleet. At dawn on the 6th the weather cleared. We continued up the ridge to the west peak of the mountain, though worried by bad snow conditions and a cornice that was often unpredictably immense. Our progress was also hampered by thick cloud. Beyond the west peak we descended to a gap in the ridge, and during a clearance saw that beyond the gap was a complicated system of wet snow pinnacles, walls and overhangs. Frequent avalanches convinced us that this was a place only for those intending suicide. We waited until evening, then climbed down continuously for sixteen hours to the glacier and set up camp. The Moose’s Tooth would provide interesting and exacting ice-climbing on the last 500 feet (and three-quarters of a mile) of its west ridge, but since things must be well frozen, perhaps early in the summer would be the best time for an attempt.

After three days of bad weather, Barrie and I moved our tent to an amphitheatre under the southeast buttress of McKinley for an attempt on Mount Dan Beard (10,260 feet). This mountain, also unclimbed, has two summits, north and south, of which the latter, a bald dome of snow, is the higher. We planned to try the north ridge of the mountain and cross from the north summit to the south, and after a three-day snowstorm we set off at midday on July 14. We climbed an icefall and reaching a col, saw that the north ridge, with its steep, jagged crest and overhanging final séracs, was a poor choice. We descended and traversed a snow shelf on the west face of the mountain. This lay under a big ice cliff higher up but was mainly protected by a useful choked and overhanging bergschrund. At the end of the half-mile traverse, we made height rapidly by a long slope and reached the north peak at 11:30 p.m. Easy slopes led to the main summit, a flat area about 30-yards square and split near its highest point by a crevasse. Here we enjoyed a brew of cocoa soon after midnight and rested for an hour. Descent to the glacier over well-frozen slopes took only five hours.

We decided to walk out of the range down the Ruth Glacier and hoped to use a raft on the Tokositna and Chulitna rivers to get back to Talkeetna. We were five days getting down the Ruth to Alder Creek, but here, soon after launching, our craft grounded immovably on rocks. A second, less elaborate vessel, launched further downstream, hit a sandbar and broke up. Here we were stranded without food for three days, and shortly before making an obviously dangerous attempt to swim across the Chulitna River, we were fortunately spotted by an aircraft and picked up by Don Sheldon in a float plane on July 24.

Note: All dates in this section refer to 1962 unless stated otherwise.

Anthony Smythe, Climbers’ Club of Britain

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