American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Kluane National Park Preserve, Mt. Kennedy; North Buttress, Ascent and Pilot's Death

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Mt. Kennedy, north buttress, ascent and pilot's death. On July 10 Bill Pilling and I flew with Kurt Gloyer to climb the north buttress of Mt. Kennedy. We decided to carry over the top and return via a scenic and easy route over nearby Mt. Alverstone. Bill had descended the north side of Alverstone in 1995. We started up on July 15 with six days of supplies and climbed through most of the sustained 50- to 65-degree ice that makes up most of the first half of the route. Our expectations that July would be the best time for this route were fulfilled, as we found more ice and little of the deep snow that has plagued April to June attempts. No bivouac sites appeared until we made it to a tiny ice spur to the right of the main prow. After we chopped a site and re-hydrated, it was early morning, and we took a rest day. On the 17th we continued up more sustained ice and snow to the upper rock band, the crux section of the route. There we worked ice runnels and ramps across smooth granite. As midnight approached we bivouacked under an overhang. After a short sleep I led the crux rock section, somehow pinching a nerve that weakened my right foot. Bill led one more mixed pitch and reached snow slopes. After a few more pitches we stopped early to give me a chance to rest and stretch my back. In the morning I felt better, but Bill volunteered to keep leading. He balanced this nobility with a few route-finding mistakes. We got back on track and climbed snow slopes, digging in near the summit. Unfortunately, a wind came up, and we experienced the same problem that Tackle and Roberts had there in 1996, as spindrift poured down and pushed in our tent. We escaped to the summit and an extensive view.

We descended to camp on the Cathedral Glacier at about 11,800 feet. Storm and whiteout then kept us there, as our supplies dwindled. As our pickup date approached we stomped a note in the snow asking for food and gas. The skies cleared during the day on the 26th, our pickup date. At about 6 p.m. Kurt Gloyer flew in and found us. He circled twice to scout our situation and landed near us. He had noted crevasses below, but felt there was enough take-off room to clear them. I don't know why, but we didn’t get in the air before those crevasses. The FAA later said that the skis and prop broke off on a slight rise of snow. We plummeted into the last crevasse, stopping about 80 feet down. Kurt died shortly after the crash. Bill and I huddled, injured, in the plane. The next day a combination of U.S. military, Coast Guard, Kluane Park rangers, and Gulf Air personnel collaborated on a safe and efficient rescue. We are forever grateful for their efforts, and we mourn the loss of Kurt, a great pilot and exemplary individual.

Andy Selters, AAC

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