American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Blackburn, Wrangell Mountains

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1975

Mount Blackburn, Wrangell Mountains. On March 15, Alaskan climbers Art Ward, Gary Tandy, Steve Tandy, John Pinamont, and Don Pahlke achieved the first winter ascent in the Wrangells, and the second- highest winter summit yet attained in Alaska, on Mount Blackburn (16,523 feet). The expedition, which did not use air support for transportation but did receive one supply drop, moved up the unplowed road from Chitina behind snow-machine-towed sleds for 35 miles on March 2, until Nugget Creek was reached. The mercury, which registered —22°F. at Chitina, continued to fall as the party gained elevation. On the following day the Kuskulana Glacier was reached, and after five additional days the 8,900-foot pass between the Kuskulana and Kenne- cott Glaciers was attained, amid consistent temperatures of —30°F. After the first two days of this march, two members, Paul Carnicelli and Larry Tedrick, determined that equipment failures caused by the extreme cold jeopardized their further participation, and decided to turn back to Chitina. Once on the Kuskulana-Kennecott Pass, the climbers emerged from the permanent winter shadows of their glacial approach, constructed an igloo and snow cave, and received their single airdrop. The party then relayed to Camp I at 11,000 feet on March 12, while two of the party pushed the route up the southeast ridge to Camp II at 13,800 feet, placing 1900 feet of fixed line between the pass and Camp II. The next day the entire party moved to Camp II, poised on a knife-edged cornice and sérac above the Kennecott icefall. A rime-ice storm confined the party to camp on the 14th. On March 15 the climbers set out on their 20-mile round trip to the summit, climbing 10 miles of that distance at altitudes exceeding 16,000 feet. The true summit was attained in early afternoon, and exhibited a small banner of red silk from a previous Japanese summer expedition. The equivalent wind chill on top, with 30-mile wind and temperatures of —30°F., was calculated to be in excess of —80°F. The descent to civilization consumed eight days, four of them spent at the pass waiting for better weather.

Thomas E. Meacham, Mountaineering Club of Alaska

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