American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley Tragedy and Resulting Expedition

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1968

Mount McKinley Tragedy and Resulting Expedition. Two expeditions, the Colorado Mount McKinley and the Wilcox McKinley expeditions, joined to climb the Karsten’s Ridge route. Seven members of the latter died high on the mountain. On July 18 Jerry Clark, Mark McLaughlin, Walter Taylor, Hank James, Dennis Luchterhand and John Russell radioed to Park Rangers from the summit; they had reached the top in a white-out after a bivouac the previous night. They were apparently caught during their descent by a violent and prolonged storm. A seventh member, Steve Taylor, had remained at their 17,900-foot camp, feeling slightly ill. He also perished, apparently after his tent was destroyed. Five other members, Joseph F. Wilcox, Anshel Schiff, Howard Snyder, Paul Schlichter and Jerry Lewis, had reached the summit on July 15 and had descended to a camp at 15,000 feet on the Harper Glacier to conserve food and fuel at the high camp. They were also struck by the storm, but escaped with exhaustion and minor frostbite. The Mountaineering Club of Alaska Expedition reached the 17,900-foot camp on July 28 and found a single victim there. They found two others just below the Archdeacon’s Tower the following day. No identifications were made.

To try to find and bury the bodies and learn how the tragedy occurred, Vin and Grace Hoeman, Ray Genet, Ed Boulton, Chuck Crenchaw and Dick Springgate were flown to the Kahiltna Glacier on August 19. Except for Mrs. Hoeman, they continued up the West Buttress, building snow caves for camps, the highest being at Denali Pass at 18,200 feet on the night of the 26th. Genet and Hoeman descended to near the 17,900-foot camp but found only a few inches of a bamboo pole above the snow, which had been eight feet above the surface a few weeks before. The camp was said to be 200 yards away, but probing was futile. On August 27 Hoeman, Genet, Crenchaw and Springgate headed for the top, which they reached in the afternoon. This was the latest ascent in the year yet made. Although they searched the slopes of the Archdeacon’s Tower carefully, no traces of the bodies were found.

Note: All dates in this section refer to 1967 unless otherwise stated.

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