AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Wickersham Wall, Second Ascent of the Canadian Route

Mount McKinley, Wickersham Wall, Second Ascent of the Canadian Route. On May 5, Rick Wyatt, Evelyn Lees, Kelly McKean and I departed from the Kahiltna Landing Base, bound for the north of McKinley to attempt an alpine- style ascent of the Canadian Route on the Wickersham Wall. After five days of glacier travel we made camp on the Peters Glacier approximately half a mile below the Tluna Icefall. Using the advice of Ben Read, who had crossed the Peters the preceding year, we enjoyed a safe and straightforward passage around the infamous dangers of the icefall by passing on the northwestern border of the glacier, alternating between the northern moraine and the verge of the glacier itself. Using this route we had no difficulty with crevasses. The next day we started up the Wickersham via a new variation which ascends directly up a huge icefall spilling over the Jeffery Ridge below Jeffery Point. We made our first camp up against the ridge to avoid the gigantic ice avalanches which continuously strafe the north face. In spite of this precaution we were nearly buried by a large slide that evening. One of the main goals of our expedition was to support Rick Wyatt in an attempt to ski the Wickersham Wall on nordic ski equipment. That first afternoon he successfully skied from Camp I down to the Peters Glacier, a distance of 1200 vertical feet. The second day, anxious to escape from the constant avalanche danger, we climbed directly up onto the Jeffery Ridge and up and over Jeffery Point. From there on our route followed the meandering, and sometimes subtle, ridge crest which provides relatively safe passage through the serac walls of the face, and onto the upper slopes at 13,000 feet. On the ninth day of climbing (including two rest days), McKean and I reached the North Summit of McKinley (19,470 feet). We found that in May, contrary to the opinion of most climbers, the sun shines on the Wickersham Wall during most of the day, leaving it in shade for only a few hours in the afternoon. Our summit day provided the worst conditions of the climb, with a lenticular cap forming on the summit, accompanied by characteristically extremely cold temperatures and high winds. Several hundred feet below the summit, Lees, suffering from the cold, and Wyatt, seeing that a ski descent would be impossible under such conditions, elected to turn back, hoping to come up again when the weather cleared. McKean and I continued to the summit. On the way down, Lees fell on a long snow-and-ice slope above our camp at 16,620 feet. Having traded her ice axe for a ski pole, she was unable to make a selfarrest and tumbled nearly 1000 feet before stopping, suffering a fractured wrist and hair-line fracture of her pelvis. This incident, of course, precluded Wyatt’s ski attempt, and regretfully we evacuated Lees to the 14,000-foot camp on the West Buttress where she was airlifted to Anchorage three days after her fall.

Chris Noble, Utah Explorers