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Foraker- Denali's Neglected Wife

Foraker—Denali’s Neglected Wife

Donald J. Goodman

Mount Foraker is a formidable mountain, and the route followed looked to be the only practical one. Its average standard is at least as high as that of a first-class alpine peak, and some of the passages were difficult, while much of the exposure was very great.

—T. Graham Brown, following the first ascent of Mount Foraker in 1934.

MOUNT FORAKER, Alaska Range, 17,400 feet, was named in 1899 by Lieutenant Joseph S. Herron for Senator Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio. Senator Foraker was re-elected in 1902 but some time later exposed by the Hearst Papers for accepting fees and loans from Standard Oil Co. and driven from public life. Not a very happy connotation for so great a mountain. The Tanaina Indians of Lake Minchumena called Foraker “Sultana” meaning “His Wife” (Denali’s). Foraker is the sixth highest peak in North America (Denali [McKinley], Logan, St. Elias, Orizaba, Popocatéptl, Foraker).

Since Foraker’s first ascent in 1934, through the 1986 climbing season, twelve routes have been completed with two major start variations. Of the twelve routes seven have seen only one ascent. Table A summarizes the number of successful individuals by route and year. The 131 successful individuals to the summit compares to over 4000 for Mount McKinley. From 1976 to 1986 the success ratio on Foraker was 30% compared to McKinley’s 55%. Why such great differences in activity and successes between the two mountains? Certainly it is not because Foraker is not a worthwhile objective! Although second in shear mass to McKinley, Foraker dominates its nearest neighbor, Mount Hunter, by 3000 feet, possessing a myriad of ridges and buttresses. Foraker’s north face, rising 11,500 vertical feet from the Foraker Glacier, is comparable to McKinley’s Wickersham Wall.

In my opinion there are three reasons Mount McKinley sees so much greater activity. 1) McKinley is the highest point in North America; for that reason alone it sees much more activity. 2) Unlike McKinley, there is no “walk-up” route on Foraker. The least technical routes on Foraker are extremely long or involve lengthy approaches. 3) The Bradford Washburn map of Mount McKinley does not include Foraker. This may seem a minor point until one tries to obtain detailed topographic information on Foraker, information necessary for approach and route details. The Mount McKinley National Park map is very poor in this regard. The best source is U.S.G.S. 15-minute topographic maps. Unfortunately the summit of Foraker lies very near the comer of one of the sheets, hence four are required (U.S.G.S. McKinley A3, A4 and Talkeetna D3, D4).

Below is a summation and brief description of all existing completed routes through 1986 starting with the Archangel Ridge on the north face and going around the mountain clockwise (reference map).

(A) North Face—East Spur—Archangel Ridge, 1975. Party used horses from Wonder Lake for approach up true right bank of the Herron Glacier then crossed over a pass to the Foraker Glacier. In my opinion, the finest line on the mountain. Still only one ascent. Ref. AAJ 1976, pgs. 277-284

(B) Northeast Ridge—Sultana Ridge, 1979. Very long route that climbs Mount Crosson first. Gains over 14,000 feet and loses 4000 feet. Subject to slab avalanche. Several ascents. Ref. AAJ 1980, pg. 521.

(C) Northeast Icefall—Japanese route, 1966. Route joins Sultana Ridge. Several ascents (third-ascent route). Very subject to ice and snow avalanches. Ref. AAJ 1967, pgs. 343-344.

(D) East Face—Czechoslovakian route, 1986. The second route on the difficult east face. Like many of the routes in this vicinity a prime attraction is the very short approach. Joins the upper southeast ridge. Ref. AAJ 1987.

(E) East Face—Pink Panther Route, 1984. The first route on the east face. Also joins the upper southeast ridge. One ascent. Ref. AAJ 1985, pgs. 14-19.

(F) Southeast Ridge, 1963. Second-ascent route (F1). Has become the “standard” route (although no ascents were recorded in 1985 or 1986). F2 variation (Southwest Toe of Southeast Ridge), completed in 1974, reduces the ice avalanche hazard on the normal route. Ref. AAJs 1964, pgs. 52-55, and 1975, pg. 116.

(G) South/Southeast Ridge—French Ridge, 1976. Party placed cumulatively 24,000 feet of fixed rope. One ascent. Long, superb, difficult. Ref. AAJ 1977, pgs. 149-152.

(H) Central Spur of South Face—Infinite Spur, 1977. Most difficult and technical sustained route to date. First traverse of Foraker (descent via southeast ridge). Difficult approach from Kahiltna Glacier. One ascent. Ref. AAJ 1978, pgs. 352-358.

(I) South Ridge—Talkeetna Ridge, 1968. Fourth-ascent route. First severely technical route. Second ascent in 1986 (second traverse of Foraker with descent via southeast ridge). Ref. AAJs 1969, pgs. 289-294, and 1987.

(J) Southwest Ridge, 1977. This longest and most complex ridge on Foraker has been the subject of numerous attempts. Prior to the success in 1977 no fewer than five attempts were made with none starting from the same point. Approach may be as difficult as the climb itself. Existing route has a 1500-vertical-foot drop-off the ridge at one point. Prominent feature on this ridge is “The Fin,” a 13,300-foot point named by the 1934 West Ridge party. One ascent. Ref. AAJ 1978, pgs. 359-365.

(K) West Ridge, 1934. First-ascent route (Kl). Original approach from McKinley Park using horses then up Foraker Glacier. Major variation in 1977 approaches via the Herron Glacier and joins the original route at 11,000 feet (K2). Three ascents in total. Ref. AAJs 1935, pgs. 285-297 and 1978, pgs. 508-509.

(L) North Face—West Spur—Highway of Diamonds, 1983. The western spur of the three prominent spurs on the massive north face. Approach was via Kantishna on skis. Difficult route. One ascent. Ref. AAJ 1984, pgs. 87-93.

Additional activity of note includes (1) the first winter ascent, March 13, 1975 via the southeast ridge, (Ref. AAJ 1976, pg. 430), (2) first ski descent (alpine gear), 1981 via the southeast ridge, (Ref. AAJs 1982, pg. 133 and 1983, pgs. 146-147), and (3) first circumambulation, 1981 (Ref. AAJ 1982, pgs. 132-133).

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Mr. David Hirst, of the U.S. Geologic Survey—Ice and Climate Project, and Mr. Robert Seibert, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park.

SUMMARY OF ASCENTS—FORAKER

NUMBER OF SUCCESSFUL INDIVIDUALS

Table A







N.E.

















North Face







No. Face

N.E.

Icefall

East Face

East Face



S./S.E. Ridge

Central Spur

So. Rdg.





West Spur

Total





East Spur

Ridge

Japanese

Czech.

Pink

S.E. Ridge

French

of So. Face

Talkeetna

s.w.

West Ridge

Hwy. of

Successful



Year

Archangel

Sultana

Rt.

Rt.

Panther

+ Variation

Rt.

Infinite Spur

Ridge

Ridge

+ Variation

Diamonds

Individuals



1934





















3



3



1963











2













2



1966





3



















3



1968

















3







3



1969





4





2













6



1974











8













8



1975

6



5





6













17



1976













7











7



1977











4



2



4

5



15



1978











4













4



1979



8





















8



1980



5







8













13



1981











6













6



1982











4













4



1983











13











2

15



1984



4





3

3













10



1985

























0



1986







2









2



3



7



TOTALS

6

17

12

2

3

60

7

2

5

4

11

2

131



Sources: American Alpine Journal and Denali National Park Records