American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Climbing Alone, Exceeding Abilities, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

CLIMBING ALONE, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Alaska, Mount McKinley

Brian Hoover (26) registered with the Talkeetna Ranger Station on June 17,1987, to solo climb both the southeast ridge of Mount Foraker and the Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley. Mountaineering Rangers Scott Gill and Bob Seibert attempted to convince Hoover to try the standard West Buttress route since Hoover had limited mountaineering experience for the other more difficult routes. In addition, during the winter and spring of 1987, Hoover corresponded with Seibert about his climbing plans. Seibert attempted to dissuade Hoover. Clearly warned of the hazards involved in solo travel on large Alaska Range glaciers and of the difficult nature of the Cassin Ridge, Hoover insisted on continuing with his planned itinerary. He flew over into Kahiltna base camp with 30 days of food. There, he had a discussion with climbing guide Jon Waterman, who convinced Hoover to try the West Buttress of Mount McKinley and possibly the Cassin Ridge afterwards.

He climbed the West Buttress, reaching the summit on June 30 via the upper West Rib route. His primary intention was to make an ascent of the Cassin Ridge after this initial ascent of the mountain. On July 7 he departed up the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier (the approach to the Cassin Ridge) with about eight days of food. Hoover’s registered due out date with the Park Service was July 20. Hoover hadn’t returned to Kahiltna base camp by the 20th, so his pilot, Doug Geeting, began the first search efforts on the 21st. He flew the approach, Cassin Ridge and West Buttress making no sightings. The park service became involved after this flight with extensive helicopter and fixed-wing flying on the 24th, 25th and 26th. A single set of tracks was observed leading up into the cirque west of the West Rib and ending in avalanche debris. Continued searching in the area found no sign of Hoover. Search efforts were concluded late on the 26th. Hoover is presumed dead. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

In Hoover’s correspondence with Ranger Seibert, he spoke of the Cassin Ridge as being the next logical step in the progression of his climbing career where the “difficulty in my climbs is quite evident as each successive climb has increased in difficulty and height.” Hoover’s climbing background did not reflect climbs with the technical difficulty on snow, ice, or rock which he would have encountered either on the Cassin or in the cirque where searchers followed tracks that were believed to be Hoover’s. In Hoover’s last contact with another climbing party, he expressed concern for his own safety in the heavily crevassed icefall in the upper reaches of the Northeast Fork, on the approach to the Cassin. The tracks believed to be Hoover’s traveled up the Northeast Fork to near the base of the icefall, then turned into a cirque to the north. No known climbing routes begin from the head of this cirque. It is believed Hoover saw the severely crevassed icefall, decided it was too hazardous for travel, and looked for alternatives, probably venturing into the cirque. No one will ever know what he did after this, and considering the danger of icefall, avalanche, or crevasse, one can only speculate on his demise. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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