Albert H. MacCarthy, 1876-1956

Publication Year: 1957.



Albert H. MacCarthy, who died last October after an illness of more than a year, was one of the most rugged mountaineers of our time. At forty-eight and forty-nine he led the reconnaissance, winter freighting trip, and first ascent of Mount Logan, 19,850 feet, second in height only to Mount McKinley in North America—twenty-six weeks in the field. At fifty he made 101 ascents in the Alps in 63 elapsed days—45 climbing days—leaving a trail of temporarily exhausted professional guides behind him. He had gone over to see the Alps, but soon decided that he didn’t care as much for the life and climbing there as in our West, so characteristically made the most of his one season and never returned.

Mack was born in Ames, Iowa, son of Cornelius G. and Laura Barnes MacCarthy. After attending public schools in Nevada, Iowa, and in Des Moines, he entered the United States Naval Academy in 1893, where he was awarded the Navy Athletic Association sword for excellence in athletics, graduating in 1897. He was secretary of his class at the time of his death. After ten years of active duty he resigned his commission, shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Larned. He then tried his hand in the textile field, the law, banking, real estate, and hotel operation, returning to the Navy for active duty during World War I. He was happiest, however, on the large ranch which he and his wife developed in the Windermere valley, in British Columbia. There they spent much of their time for about twenty years, up to about 1930. In 1932 they returned to Annapolis, where Mack found congenial occupation in operating Carvel Hall, and in work with the S.P.C.A. to better the lot of animals, to which both he and his wife were devoted. After her death, in 1944, he turned more to civic affairs, Historic Annapolis, the Anne Arundel General Hospital, and the local radio station (WNAV), but still with time for the welfare of animals.

It was during the years of ranch life in British Columbia that both Mack and his wife found love of the mountains. Here he met the well-known guide Conrad Kain, as well as W. W. Foster, then with the Canadian Pacific Railway, with whom he formed a very close friendship. In the nearby Purcells, the MacCarthys, with Kain, made numerous first ascents, including Farnham, Farnham Tower, Commander, Jumbo, St. Peter, Ethelbert, Eyebrow, and many others. In the Selkirks, Mack led the first guideless ascent in one day of the Northwest Ridge of Sir Donald. Later, again in the Purcells and Bugaboos there were more first ascents, including Howser and Bugaboo spires, as well as exploration. In the Canadian Rockies there were many ascents, both with and without Kain. In 1913 MacCarthy, Foster, and Kain made the first ascent of Mount Robson. Their route on the north side was not repeated for forty years. In 1916 came the first ascent of Mount Louis, near Banff, again with Kain. There followed the war interval, a return to the ranch, and more climbing, including the first traverse of Mount Assiniboine, in 1920, with A. W. Wakefield and me. In 1923 he became interested in Mount Logan. His last climbs were Mount Logan, in 1924-25, and his single, comprehensive season in the Alps, in 1926.

The Canadian Alpine Journal and other alpine journals contain many accounts of MacCarthy’s climbs; The American Alpine Journal, founded after the close of his climbing career, contains only the obituaries for his wife and for W. W. Foster. He was a member of the Alpine Club, and an honorary member of the Alpine Club of Canada, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the American Alpine Club. The last he and his wife had joined at the same time in 1915.

Mack was a firm and resolute leader of the Mount Logan party. He held council most frequently with his close friend Foster. Some members of the party chafed at what they felt was too rigid leadership. Mack had learned discipline through his naval training and felt that a degree of such control was required with this party which had never worked together before. There was some sentiment for "rushing" the mountain instead of proceeding in more orderly fashion from well-stocked camps at the various stages. His plan was undoubtedly the sounder, but there was unfortunately a feeling of resentment by some of the party. Mack always felt badly about this, I know, but to my knowledge he never harbored ill feelings toward the others in later years — he was just sorry that they had not seen things his way.

Mack was not old in spirit. He once said that he had "discovered" the secret of perpetual youth. On the voyage to New Zealand, finding himself just east of the 180th meridian the day before his fiftieth birthday and west of it the second calendar day thereafter, the next day, he decided that as he had had no fiftieth birthday he could therefore never become older than forty-nine. Many years later he said that he was enjoying his fiftieth year thoroughly.

The circumstance of living for twenty years in British Columbia and doing most of his best mountaineering in Canada had made him rather more of a figure in the Canadian than in the American Alpine Club; at least he was better known there than in his own country during his active climbing career. He was a familiar figure at the A.C.C. summer camps for many years and one of the most active climbing-leaders. Mack was a careful, safe, and considerate leader on a climb. He gave the less experienced climbers behind him complete confidence that they would get safely and enjoyably up and down, which they always did. He and his good friend General Foster continued to come to the camps, not annually, but very frequently, almost to the end for both, though neither had climbed for many years.

Henry S. Hall, Jr.

*"The Mount Logan Adventure" by Allen Carpé, AAJ, 1933, 2:1.