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Clearing Garbage from Mount McKinley

Clearing Garbage from Mount McKinley

TERRY JONES, University of Oregon Outdoor Program

WE are grateful for the grant from the American Alpine Club Climbing Fellowship Fund, given to support our effort to clean the West Buttress route of Mount McKinley of garbage.

On April 20 Don Sheldon landed Steve Schaefers, Gary Grimm, Peter Sistrom, Dennis Johnson, Jim Satterwhite, Karel Dohnal and me on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7400 feet just outside the Park boundary. Earlier that day Sheldon had agreed to fly out any garbage we found below the basin at 14,400 feet, but he was sure we could not find any as “100 feet of snow had fallen this year.”

We moved up the Kahiltna and by the 28th we had an igloo and snow cave at Kahiltna Pass at 10,000 feet and caches at 11,000 and 12,800 feet, below Windy Corner. We had hoped to ski all the way to 14,000 feet, but winter winds had exposed hard snow and ice from 11,000 feet to Windy Corner at 13,200 feet, as well as garbage frozen in the ice. We picked up what we could and brought it down to 10,000 feet. A lot was from Alaska Mountain Guides expeditions, who use big green wastebaskets to carry supplies.

The 29th brought our first storm, which kept us at 10,000 feet for five days. Then we made a try to get to 14,000 feet, only to be caught at 11,000 feet for two more days. On May 6 we moved to 14,400 feet, which is probably the biggest dump on McKinley. Luckily it was buried under snow; the only trace of man was a partially buried Japanese tent. By May 9 we were ready to move up the fixed line and camped at 16,300 feet in beautiful weather with a panoramic view.

Planning to move to 17,200 feet, then the summit the next day, we started off on the morning of the 10th. At 17,200 feet we found an icy flat with paper wrappings, plastic water bottles, ski bindings, overboots and everything which climbers discard to lighten their packs on the way down. It would take all summer to carry that junk down. We picked up a few things and built two snow caves. At 3:30 the next morning the temperature was -26° F with a 30 mph wind and a clear sky. We started toward the summit, but soon the wind picked up to 60 mph and clouds came down. At Denali Pass (18,200 feet) we decided to descend to our caves.

After three days of waiting there, the weather cleared somewhat. With only three days of food left and another storm possible, we descended, putting some of the garbage others had left in a crevasse and carrying down our own trash and extra food. All our other camps had food and garbage left by other expeditions to bring down. From 10,000 feet we each pulled 70 pounds behind us in sleeping bag covers and carried 70-or 80-pound packs down to 7500 feet. It took another day to burn about 200 pounds of paper and to smash all cans and containers, then to ski twice the 12-mile round trip to Sheldon’s landing site. Sheldon was impressed with the 380 pounds of garbage we had collected.

I want to attempt McKinley again, but not by the littered West Buttress route, which if it were not buried by tons of snow would look like a long centipede of garbage winding its way to the summit.