American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, United States, Alaska, McKinley, Attempt via West Fork of the Traleika Glacier

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1973

McKinley, Attempt via West Fork of the Traleika Glacier. Dave Smith, Dan Halpern, Dave Pettigrew, Lavelle Burnham and I went over Mc- Gonnagal Pass, across the Muldrow Glacier and up the Traleika Glacier to its west fork, where we located Base Camp at 7500 feet. We were ready to climb on July 11, 1971 after airdrop difficulties. A mile above camp on the west fork was our first major objective, the first of two icefalls which rises from 8000 to 11,000 feet. A two-man team was always out in front, while the other three hauled loads. The icefall took 1200 feet of fixed rope and numerous ice screws and wands on everything from long ice slopes to very jumbled sections. On the 21st we established Midcamp between the two icefalls at 11,400 feet. On the 23rd we had all supplies at camp and started on the upper icefall, which went from 12,000 to 14,000 feet at the edge of Thayer Basin. The weather which had been fairly good turned bad from July 23 to 28. At 13,200 feet we ran into problems. Massive gorges blocked further progress. We had a good day on the 29th, and Pettigrew and I reached Thayer Basin at 14,200 feet by means of steep slopes south of the icefall. On the 31st we started to move camp but to our dismay found our cache at the bottom of the icefall had been destroyed by an avalanche. We probed for hours, finding little. We had lost most of our food, fuel and some climbing gear. Smith, Halpern and Burnham descended to Base Camp to hike out while Pettigrew and I made a summit try. We two reached Thayer Basin that same day and joined the South Buttress route. On August 1 much snow fell with little wind. Crossing Thayer Basin the next day in 2½ feet of snow was much worse than we expected, but we still gained Thayer Ridge that evening. On the 3rd we made a summit push but were turned back at 16,700 feet by 100-mph winds and a white-out. With very little food (one lunch), we gave up and started down on the 4th, making Base Camp on the 5th after a 24-hour effort. The descent through the lower icefall was horrendous! I am sure we never could have made it without the faint trail of the other three, four days before. The route was totally different from on the ascent. Later we found that it took Smith, Halpern and Burnham 24 hours to descend the icefall alone. We then had a hungry and miserable five-day hike out from Base Camp with no food and large packs. Our climb was hampered by logistics, having a 3800-foot-rise from Base Camp to Midcamp and 3000 feet from Midcamp to Thayer Basin. There were no possible campsites in the icefalls and all three caches we had in them were destroyed sooner or later by avalanches.

Donald Black, Unaffiliated

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