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North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Wickersham Wall, Canadian Route Variation

Mount McKinley, Wickersham Wall, Canadian Route Variation. In late May Tim Gage, 17-year-old Markus Hutnak and I returned to attempt McKinley’s Wickersham Wall. We were successful in climbing a new variation of the Canadian route (A.A.J., 1964, pages 43 to 46). Our first attempt in 1982 had failed at 10,000 feet. Last year our team had seriously considered a new route. On the map the east side of the wall looked feasible, but David Roberts of the 1963 Harvard team said that he had observed there “the most spectacular avalanches he’d ever seen in his life.” The same is true of any new route between the Harvard and Canadian routes. Despite our 100-pound packs, we moved fast from Wonder Lake and in three days were at our former Base Camp east of the wall on the moraine a few miles from the terminus of the Peters Glacier. We ascended the Peters to where the Jeffery Glacier joins it. There are several areas on the Jeffery between 6000 and 7000 feet that could be a problem. Short sections are threatened by avalanches. After July 1 the lower Jeffery would entail difficult route-finding because of crevasses. Within a week of leaving Wonder Lake we had established Camp I at 7000 feet but were tent-bound by a storm for nearly three days. On June 3 we reached 8500 feet, where another blizzard pinned us in the tent. By morning it was much better. Hour after hour we zigzagged through the upper Jeffery icefall, fixing rope on the steeper sections. At 10,000 feet, in another blizzard, we dug a huge cavern and pitched the tent inside. There were still 1000 feet of icefall. Camp was moved to a small spur at 12,500 feet on what Brad Washburn calls the “steep pitch.” Above 13,000 feet the climbing was crevasse-free, but a new bugaboo replaced the crevasses: rock lurked under the snow, making it unpredictable. As we moved camp up to 15,000 feet, our eyes kept darting left. “If we traversed, we could cover some new territory and add 3000 more feet to this climb of the wall.” The following day, after returning to a cache at 14,400 feet to bring up our last load, we decided definitely for the variation. June 15 was our summit day. The long traverse out onto the wall was tiring. Well out onto the wall, we headed up, crossed a small rock rib, traversed a little higher and then climbed straight up to the saddle on the Northwest Buttress at 18,500 feet. We were off the wall. The summit beckoned, only 1000 feet away. The corniced North Peak seemed to go on forever. Finally it dropped suddenly to Pioneer Ridge and we were on the summit of the North Peak. We descended to the Northwest Buttress and arrived back at Camp V at two A.M., 18 hours after we had left it. We elected to climb the Northwest Buttress the next day. Everything we had read indicated it was possible to traverse, without losing altitude, from the Northwest to the West Buttress. Because of the snow conditions, however, we were forced to descend 1500 feet to an unnamed glacier between the two buttresses. We spent the night on the glacier and climbed to the West Buttress the next day. We flew out on June 19 to Talkeetna.

Gary Speer