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High Alaska: A Historical Guide to Denali, Foraker, and Mount Hunter

High Alaska: A Historical Guide to Denali, Foraker, and Mount Hunter. Jonathan Waterman. The American Alpine Club, New York. 398 pages, including 32 in color, 74 black-and-white route photographs, 38 other photographs, ten maps, bibliography. $35.00.

Jonathan Waterman has produced in this book a history of the ascents of three great mountains and a photographic guide to the different routes. He identifies two dozen on Mount McKinley, or Denali as Alaskans prefer to name it, and ten each on Foraker and Hunter. The special feature of the book is the superb group of photographs, with routes outlined on them, most by Bradford Washburn. Climbers who study these pictures should have no trouble with route-finding on the mountains.

The book is basically a marriage of Washburn’s 50-year love affair with North America’s highest mountain, and all the expertise that it produced, and Waterman’s clear and careful organization and familiarity with the more recent climbs. Both made new routes on these mountains, including Washburn’s discovery of the West Ridge route on Denali. Waterman tells the story of each route, starting with Alfred Brooks’ suggestion in 1903 of how Denali could be climbed, and ending with routes made in the middle 1980s, with one or two potential routes identified as unclimbed.

His stories indicate how many climbers, foreigners especially, like Cassin, have underestimated how cold these mountains are. Much frostbite still occurs among the 700 or so climbers who at present annually attempt to climb Denali. Fewer than half reach the summit, 51 have died on the mountain, and there have been hundreds of rescues.

My only criticisms of the book are that it lacks an index, and that the beauty of some of Washburn’s great photographs is marred by their being printed across the centerfold. Ideally, there could be a large supplement of unmarked photographs, as with Sella’s pictures of the Karakoram. Perhaps something of this sort can appear in the future. One thing, however, is sure. This book is the best guide to Alaska’s highest mountains that will appear in our generation.

Robert H. Bates