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Frances D Randall, 1925-1984



Frances D. Randall will always be remembered as the “Queen of the Kahiltna.” She worked as Base Camp Manager on the Kahiltna Glacier for nine summers, developing a motherly rapport with thousands of McKinley climbers. Her expertise was instrumental in coordinating dozens of rescues that saved many lives. She was planning her tenth summer when she died this May of cancer. She was fifty-nine.

A member of the American Alpine Club since 1968, Frances was in 1964 one of the early women to climb McKinley. In 1965 she was on the first ascent of Pinnacle Peak in the St. Elias Range. Back again to Alaska in 1967, she was a member of the joint American-Japanese expedition with ascents of Mount Bona and Mount Churchill. Before her divorce in 1970, she and her husband spent ten years as full-time climbers, making numerous ascents in the United States and Canada.

On the request of veteran glacier pilot Cliff Hudson, Frances took on the task of managing the base-camp radios. Every evening at seven P.M., climbers and other radio hams around Alaska would listen while Frances broadcast the mountain weather forecast; she often repeated this in Japanese or Spanish. Then for the next hour she would converse with her big family on the mountain, keeping track of the 500 or so that passed through Base Camp each season.

Frances was a member of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and if you caught her in the right mood, you could hear a beautiful violin concerto. On occasion she would play on the CB radio for an expedition on the summit. She loved foreign languages and was in her element at Base Camp where an annual 30% of the climbers came from some twenty different nations. She was fluent in Japanese, Spanish, Russian and French. As a translator during rescue operations, her skill was invaluable.

I first met Frances in 1976 after coming off Mount McKinley from a cleanup project. As we skied up the last hill into Base Camp we were greeted by this cheery, somewhat feisty blond-haired woman wearing welders’ goggles and pigtails tied in surveyors’ tape. Lo and behold! She passed out cold beer to everyone’s thirsty delight. Soon we had all contributed to a delicious meal of steak and fresh Alaskan salad greens. Later in the evening, as we snuggled down in our bags, a faint violin solo could be heard among the echoes of ice avalanches and rockfall.

Peter Robinson