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Mount McKinley: Encyclopedia Arctica 12: Alaska, Geography and General
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Mount McKinley

Revised by H.B
Belmore Browne

MOUNT McKINLEY

Mount McKinley (63°5′ N., 151° W.), North America's supreme
mountain, rises to 20,300 feet in south central Alaska, and is formed
by a gigantic mass of granite that was forced upward through the
earth's crust. This great peak, a part of the Alaska Range, is out–
standing not only in being the highest mountain in North America but
in rising higher above its base than any other mountain in the world.
It culminates in two peaks — North Peak, with a height of about 20,000
feet, and South Peak, the true summit. The granite of which the moun–
tain is composed is of a light, grayish-tan color, and at a distance
the towering cliffs take on a pinkish hue which gives the vast uplift
a delicato, atmospheric appearance that differentiates it from other
mountains and stamps it with a beauty and grandeur of its own. Some
of the lower peaks close to the mountain are given a strange black-capped
appearance by an overlapping stratum of slate.
Before the advent of the airplane the main difficulty to be
overcome in ascending the mountain was the low altitude from which it
rises. In both South America and Tibet, where the world's highest
mountains are located, climbing difficulties do not really begin until
an altitude of at least 10,000 feet is reached. On McKinley the
"snouts" or ends of the glaciers extend downward to within about
2,000 feet above sea level and, without modern mechanical help, the

Mount McKinley
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glaciers offer the only practical routes to the summit. On the south, or
Susitna Valley side of the mountain , the only glacier explored on foot , thus
far, necessitated thirty miles of back-packing over treacherous ice-fields
to reach an altitude of 5,000 feet at the mountain ' s base, where the climber is
still confronted with 15,000 feet of ice and snow. On the mountain's northwestern
face there are places where the ice sweeps downward to 3,000 feet, leaving more
than 17,000 feet of ice-clad mountain to rise above the tundra.
As the mountain ranges that separate the glaciers are too rugged to
follow, the climber is forced to take to the ice at a low altitude, which
necessitates polar equipment and the transportation of a large amount of food
and gear. On the lower reaches of the glaciers dog-teams can be used, but most
of the pre-airplane transportation was by backpacking.
In the early days Alaskans used to say that Mt. McKinley "had been placed
in the most inaccessible position obtainable." It lies just north of a "sixty–
three" and it is bisected by the 152d meridian, forming the apex and geographical
center of the great wilderness lying south of the Yukon and west of the Tanana
rivers. Its glacial streams cool the [: ] Y ukon on the north , via the Kantishna and
Tanana rivers, and the S i u sitna on the south , via the Tokositna and Chulitna rivers.
The nearest salt water to Mt. McKinley is Cook Inlet, 140 miles to the southwest.
The Alaska Range, of which McKinley forms the crowning peak, is the
main branch of the great western cord erilla illera . It sweeps westward [: ] from the
headwaters of the Tanana river and then southwest in a great arc to form the
mountains of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands.
The Talkeetna Indians called the mountain Doleika and regarded it with
reverent awe. To them, the roar of distant avalanches and the sounds made by
the glacier were the groans of evil spirits. Talkeetna Nicolae, chief of the
Susitnae, gave this version of the origin of the mountain:

Mount McKinley
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In speaking of the Indian names for Mt. McKinley, Alfred H.
Brooks says: "No one can know how many generations of natives have
wandered over this region, but it seems certain that the indigenous
population was greater at the first coming of the white man than it is
now. As the natives depended largely on the chase for subsistence,
they must have frequented the slopes of the Alaskan Range, and the
adjacent lowlands, for this is one of the best game regions in the
Northwest. Most of the range formed an almost impassable barrier
between the hunting ground of the Cook Inlet natives and that of the
Kiskoquim Indians. It does not seem to have been n amed, for the
Alaskan Indian has no fixed geographic nomenclature for the larger
geographic features. A river will have half a dozen names, depending
on the direction from which it is approached. The cartographers who
cover Alaskan maps with unpronounceable names, imagining that these
are based on local usage, are often misled. The immense height of
Mr. McKinley must have impressed the Indian. It was used as a land–
mark in his journeys. With its twin peak, Mount Foraker, it is
interwoven in the folklore of the tribes living within sight of the
two giant mountains. The tribes on the east side of the range, who
seldom, if ever, approached it called it Traleika, probably signifying big
4

Mount McKinley
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mountain. Those on the northwest side, who hunted caribou up to the very base
of the mountain, called it Tennally " (a name which Archdea k c on Hudson Stuck heard
as Denali).
Brooks was correct in stating that Traleika signified big mountain;
but I cannot agree that the people east of the mountain never hunted close to it.
The Susitnas and Talkeetnas as well as the western Kantishna hunted close to it.
They ascended the S i u sitna tributaries in the winter with dog-teams, made skin
boats from the hides of the animals they had killed and floated back to their
homes after the spring flood had ended.
Captain James Cook, who discovered the great inlet that now bears his
name, did not see the Alaska Range; the mountains that rise so majestically
above the northern horizon on a clear day, were evidently obscured by fog. The
honor of the first mention of the range by an English speaking explorer belongs
to George Vancouver, one of Captain Cook's officers. He caught sight of the
range from Knick Arm at the head of Cook Inlet, close to where the city of
Anchorage now stands, and in speaking of it says:
" The shores we had passed were compact; two or three small streams of
fresh water flowed into the branch between low, steep banks, above these the
surface was nearly flat and formed a sort of plain on which there was no snow and
but very few trees. This plain stretched to the foot of a connected body of
mountains, which, excepting between the west and north-west, were not very remote;
and even in that quarter the country might be considered moderately elevated,
bounded by distant stupendous mountains covered with snow and apparently detached
from each other, though possibly they might be connected by land of insufficient
height to intercept our horizon. "
In speaking of this description Brooks says: " Even Vancouver failed to
mention specifically the two high peaks which tower above the range, though the
description " distant stupendous mountains covered with snow and apparently
detached from each other " undoubtedly refers to Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker. "
5

Mount McKinley
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In 1834 a Russian mate by the name of Malakoff ascended the Susitna
River, but it is improbable that he reached the forks as he made no mention of
the Alaska Range. Possibly the story handed down by the Talkeetna Indians
concerning the Russian who died in the Kichatna swamps may have reference to
Malakoff ' s expedition, for he was the only Russian known to have made an attempt
to explore the McKinley region.
That the Russians knew of the Alaska Range there is no doubt, as Brooks
says: "Grewingk, who summarised the geography of Alaska in 1852, indicated on
his map the axis of such a range, to which he gave the name of Tchigmit Mountains."
Dall gave the Alaskan Range its name. He was one of the engineers appointed to
survey a route f ro or a telegraph line; he did not approach closely to the range
but saw from a distance.
As to the first mention of Mount of McKinley by Americans, Brooks states:
" In the fall of 1878, Harper and Mayo ascended the Tanana a distance estimated at
250 to 300 miles, which would bring them to the present town of Fairbanks. This
was the first exploration of the Tanana by white men. They reported the finding of
alluvial gold in the bars of the river and also that there was a high snow-covered
mountain plainly vis a i ble to the south; this of course, was Mount McKinley. Later
on Brooks says: " In 1889, an Alaskan pioneer, Frank Densmore, with several others,
crossed one of the portages from the lower Tanana to the Kusko qu kw im. About the
same time another prospector, Al King, made the same trip. Densmore must have
had a glorious view of Mount McKinley. Apparently it was his description of it
which led the Yukon pioneers to name it Densmore's Mountain, and as such it was
known on the Yukon [: ] for a long time before any one realized its altitude. "
In 1885 Lieutenant Henry T. Allen crossed from Copper River to the
Yukon. His report mentions seeing very high mountains south - west of the Tanana.
Although the mountain was known among the pioneers along the Yukon,
no description of it had , as yet reached the outside world. W.A. [: ] Dick e y,
6

Mount McKinley

a young Princeton graduate, was destined to awaken the great peak from its long
sleep and give it the prominence it deserved.
In 1896, with one companion, he "tracked" a boat up the S i u sitna River.
He and Monks, his partner, were prospecting for gold and in the course of time
they reached a point where, from some bare hills, they got an open view of the
Alaska Range, with Mount McKinley towering above it. With a crude theodolite,
made on the spot, he estimated its height at 20,000 feet. On his return south
he wrote an article describing the location and grandeur of the great mountain,
which he named Mt. McKinley.
In theory, at least, the naming of important geographical features
should be a metter for serious consideration. In this respect the alleged reason
for the naming of Mount McKinley is worth recording. It is said that while
Dick e y and Monks were in the Susitna wilderness they were joined by two prospectors
who were rabid advocates of free silver. After listening to their arguments for
many weary days, Dick e y and Monks retaliated by naming the mountain after Willian McKinley the
champion of the gold standard.
In 1898 much was added to the knowledge of the Alaska Range and Mount
McKinley. George H. Eldridge and Robert Muldrow led an expedition up the
Susitna. Muldrow, the topographer, made a rough triangulation of the mountain
that verified Dick e y's estimate of height. J.E. Spurr and W.S. Post of the
Geological Survey ascended the S qu kw entna, a western fork of the Susitna, crossed
the Alaskan Range, and, after many adventures, reached Bering Sea. The War
Department dispatched Captain F.W. Glenn to Cook Inlet to explore a route to
the interior. His party reached the Tanana and retraced their steps via the
Delt e a and Matauska rivers.
Also in 1898 a party led by W.J. Peters, to which Brooks was attached
as geologist, was traversing the Tanana valley on the north. In summing up the
7

Mount McKinley
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year ' s work Brooks says that the surveys of that year had circumscribed an area
of about 50,000 square miles which was still unexplored. "Within it lay Mount
McKinley, the highest peak on the continent, as the general public, hitherto
skeptical as to its reported altitude, was beginning to realize."
Five years went past without further addition to the knowledge of the
mountain. Then Brooks and Raeburn made their famous pack-train trip from salt
water to the Yukon. Starting from Cook In sl le t they broke through the Alaska Range
by a pass on the headwaters of the Kichatna River and following the northern
foothills of the range, mapping the country as they advanced. Their route led
them directly under the northwestern slopes of Mount McKinley and their triangulations
placed the mountain's height at 20,300 feet. Their report furnished the first
accurate details of the Mount McKinley region; in response to this knowledge the
minds of men began to stir to the challenge of its virgin summit.
The first attempted climb was by Judge James Wickersham who in 1901
started from the mining camp of Fairbanks on the Tanana River, using pack-horse
transport for his supplies. The party was not prepared in any way for alpine work
of so difficult a nature, but an attempt to scale the mountain was made from the most
westerly of the glaciers flowing north from the mountain, which they named Hannah
Glacier.
An expedition in 1903 by Dr. Frederick A. Cook of Brooklyn marked only
a slight transition from the earlier exploratory invasions of the Mt. McKinley
region. The party followed a route previously explored, that taken by Lieut.
Heron, in 1 9 8 99 and by Brooks and Raeburn; the avowed purpose of the expedition was
the climbing of the big mountain.
The party consisted of five men: Dr. F. rederick A. Cook, Robert Dunn, Ralph
Shainwald and Fred Printz. Printz was an experienced mountain man from Darby,
Montana, and had been the head-packer for the Brooks and Raeburn expedition.
Their transportation was furnished by packhorses from eastern Washington.

Mount McKinley
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8
The start was made from Tyonik, at the head of Cook Inlet and their
route lead overland to the Skwenta and Kichatna rivers to Simpson Pass across
the Alaskan Range to the valley of the Kuskoquim river. Once on the Northern
side of the Alaska Range they turned northeast and followed timberline to Mt.
McKinley.
The difficulties of the r oute slowed their advance and they did not reach
the mountain until the end of August, too late for a job of such magnitude. Two
attempts were made to scale the mountain. The first, made on the southwestern side,
proved impractical at 8,000 feet. A second attempt made further east from the
Peters Glacier enabled them to attain an altitude of 11,000 feet. They returned
from the second effort on September 1st, to face the advent of wintry weather.
A return to Cook Inlet by land was rendered dubious by the weakness of their horses.
The second alternative, which was adopted, was to cross the Alaskan Range north of
McKinley, descend to the headwaters of the Chulitna river and raft to Cook Inlet
via the Chulitna and Susitna rivers. The retreat was successfully accomplished.
This experience eliminated the Simpson Pass - Kusko qu kw im trail as a
route for parties attempting the ascent of McKinley. The deep snow of Simpson
Pass precludes a passage with horses enough to give a climbing party the time
necessary for locating a possible climbing route and conducting the climb and
returning to the coast. The ascent of Mt. McKinley was still in the exploration
stage.
The expedition of 1906 was organized by Dr. Frederick A. Cook and
Professor Herschel C. Parker of Columbia University. The other members were
Russell W. Porter, topographer; Belmore Browne, artist; Ernest Miller, photographer;
Fred Printz, the veteran horse-packer of two previous expeditions; Edward Barrill e ,
packer, also from Darby, Montana; and the man named Beecher, who served as cook.
Packhorses were again used for transportation; but as the plan was to
approach the mountain on a more direct route via the Yentna river a larg northern
tributary of the Sus u i tna x , a motorboat was employed to carry extra supplies as

Mount McKinley
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9 well as members of the party [: ] attached to the pack-train; and to explore
the headwaters of the Yentna before the pack-train's arrival.
From the headwaters of the Yentna the final route was problematical. If
a [: ] satisfactory pass was found leading across the Alaskan Range to the
Kusko qu kw im it would constitute the shortest route to the northern side of Mt. McKinley
and a quick return route to the motorboat at the head of the Yentna for getting
back to the coast. If no usable pass was found, a direct advance along the south
side of the range would be made. In either case a serious problem was presented
in that the country was an unexplored wilderness. It was known that a few pros–
pectors had penetrated the range at different points, but no details of their
experiences were obtainable.
The pack-train and motorboat met as prearranged at the head of navigation
on the Yentna. From this point a scouting party was sent forward consisting of
Cook, Browne and Porter who sighted a deep gap in the range leading northward to the
Kusko qu kw im. The hardships encountered in exploring this area were severe. Dense
timber, swamps, glacier streams and constant rain made travel difficult. Lack of
game and of grass ag g ravated the food problem for men and horses, while dense
clouds of mosquitoes made life even more difficult.
The effort to cross the range was brought to an end by a canyon with
vertical walls after several members of the party had narrow escapes from death
while swimming weakened horses through the ice-laden rapids.
The only alternative was the route leading along the southern side of the
range to Mt. McKinley and the S s tart was made at once. As the Alaska Range lies
athwart the drift of moist clouds from the Pacific Ocean, its southern face receives
an enormous snow-fall on the higher peaks and heavy rains in the foothills. The
advance was made over or through a constant series of bogs, where the horses
sank in deep, or swift rivers that were of swimming depth.

Mount McKinley
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10
Prospectors had reached the area and some of the stream had been named:
Sunflower Creek, Cache Creek, Lake Creek and the Kahiltna river — a large
tributary of the Susitna.
The first of the Mt. McKinley glaciers reached was a large ice-stream
flowing from the southwestern face of the mountain. A wandering Indian who had
joined the party stated that the Susitna Indians called it Kahnicula. The horses
had weakened alarmingly; and as the travel was becoming increasingly difficult
they were turned loose, to recuperate. The party advanced on foot to the largest
glacier coming from the southern face of Mt. McKinley. Dr. Cook named it Ruth
Glacier. (It was called "the Big Glacier" by the Parker-Browne Expedition of 1910).
A smooth ridge separated the two glaciers and ended in a small but bountiful
mountain range which the party named the Tokoshah Mountains, meaning in the Susitna
language "The Mountains Where there are no Trees."
From the top of the ridge the party were able to study the lower reached
of the Big Glacier and the great Gorge through which it debouched from the
southern face of Mt. McKinley. A low range of broken mountains hid the actual
base of the precipitous wall, but above the five thousand foot level the entire
south slope of the mountain was exposed to view.
A careful examination of the twenty miles of glacier ice that separated
the party from the fifteen thousand foot uplift of the mountain's southeastern
face convinced Browne and Parker that their equipment and the time at their
disposal was insufficient for a task of such magnitude. The end of summer was at
hand, frost was killing the vegetation, the horses were weak. The return to the
seacoast, in itself, was a serious problem.
From the viewpoint of exploration the effort constituted a valuable
addition to the knowledge of Alaska. Russell Porter's efforts had added large
areas to the map and the experiences of the party were an aid to prospectors who
were invading the Susitna valley. But from the climbing viewpoint the trip had
been of little account; a glacial roadway had been found leading to the southwestern

Mount McKinley
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11 face of the mountain, which appeared unclimbable; a ten thousand foot, flat
topped buttress was seen extending from the southwestern end of the mountain
leading [: ] upward to avalanche-swept cliffs. The only suggestions of
unbroken ridges that might offer a route to the summit were on the northeast, too
far away for detailed examination.
The enormous difficulties of climbing McKinley were just becoming
apparent to Parker and Browne. They had already decided to make a second attempt
to scale the mountain and the first hand knowledge of the approaches, character
of terraine, distances to be covered and the equipment necessary was of great
value to them later on. The equipment which had been in local use to this time
was utterly inadequate for the polar-type travel obligated by the vast fields
of snow and ice that stretched before them. Horse transportation was ruled out
for all time. The river formed by the Kahniculah and T t he Big Glacier s and named the
Tokositna flowed eastward to the Chukitna and offered a near approach to the mountain
for a motorboat via the Susitna river.
On its return the party reached the seacoast after enduring many hardships
and dangers. Parker returned to civilization and Browne, on the request of Cook,
proce e ded to Knick Arm and the Chugach Range to collect a series of big game
animals for the Brooklyn Museum.
After Parker's departure Cook stated to Browne that he was contemplating
a trip with the motorboat to the Chulitna river for the purpose of studying the
possibility of reaching the southern approach to the mountain by water. Browne
stated that if any exploration of T he Big Glacier was contemplated he would like
to join the venture. Cook replied that no explorations would be made except by
water and he again urged Browne to go and secure the big game s e p e cimens previously
referred to. It came out later that, immediately after the conversation with
Browne, Cook dispatched a telegram to a friend in New York City: "Am preparing for
a last, desperate attack on Mt. McKinley." This incident may be looked upon as
Cook'

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12 Cook's first step in the battle of words known as the Mount McKinley Controversy
which swelled to a globe-encircling cre s cendo when it became connected in 1909 with
the Cook-Peary North Pole controversy.
It is clear that Dr. Cook ascended the Susitna, Chulitna and Tokositna rivers
as planned and, with Edward Barrill e as his only companion, proce e ded over the ice
of the Big Glacier to the entrance of the Great Gorge, previously referred to.
At this point a small tributary glacier enters the main ice-stream from the east
and on this glacier, as Parker and Browne later showed, Cook took the photographs
used as illustrations in his book The Top of the Continent to show the alleged top
of the mountain. His closest approach to the mountain evidently was at the
entrance of the Great Gorge, about twenty miles from the actual base of the
mountain.
On their return to Cook Inlet B ar rille and Cook met Browne at Seldovia.
While waiting for a south bound steamer B ar rille confessed to Browne that he and
Cook had not reached Mt. McKinley. It was, therefore, with the knowledge that
Cook's claim was a sham, but with no factual data to prove it, that Browne
rejoined Parker in New York. Such information as they had was placed before the
Board o f Governors in the Explorer's Club. But before any action was taken Cook
sailed for Greenland and for the great North Pole [: ] deception that was to cause
his downfall.

Belmore Browne
Mt. McKinley
(H.B.)

13
The Peary-Cook North Pole controversy once more threw into the limelight
Cook's earlier disputed claim, and one of the motivations of the Parker-Browne
Expedition of 1910 was to secure, if possible, photographic evidence to show that
Cook had not conquered the summit of Mt. McKinley. Moreover, the southern
glaciers had not yet been adequately surveyed, and the approach from the southern
side by way of the Susitna and Chulitna rivers was a simple matter, especially in
the early summer and with a motorboat.
The party consisted of eight men: Prof. Herschel Parker, Prof. J.H. Cuntz,
topographer, Valdemar Grassi, Herman L. Tucker, of the United States Forestry
Service, Merl [: ] La Voy, J.W. Thompson, engineer who handled the boat engine,
Arthur Aten, of Valdez, Alaska, and Belmore Browne.
Without undue difficulty the Susitna, Chulitna and Tokichitna rivers were
ascended and a base camp was established on the banks of the Tokichitna at the foot
of the main glacier flowing from the southern face of Mt. McKinley. Dr. Cook had
named the glacier Ruth Glacier, but the Parker-Browne party decided to call it the
Big Glacier.
The advance to the mountains was accomplished by back-packing in relays.
The entire southern face of the mountain was then searched, but unavailingly, for
a route capable of being climbed. Fifty days in June and July were spent on the
ice-fields at this. The great sloping ridges on the northeast were a tantalizing
sight; but to reach them proved too great a task for the party which was limited
both as to time and as to provisions. However, before the end of June one of the
objectives of the expedition had been achieved - the locations of Dr. Cook's
photographs were found and duplicated. His "peak" proved to be on a small eastern
tributary some twenty miles from the base of Mt. McKinley and only 5,300 feet above
sea level. The photographs obtained on this expedition furnished incontrovertible
proof of the falseness of Dr. Cook's claims.
On this expedition pemmican was used as basic food, rationed out one pound per
man per day along with three hardtack biscuits and a limited smount of tea and sugar. Despite the arduous labor performed, the party remained in
excellent health and spirits. It must be noted that the pemmican used was made
after the simple recipe of the American Indians and consisted of meat and fat
exclusively - quite different from the inferior product issued under the name of
pemmican to the American and Canadian armies during World War II.
By the end of this Expedition the unknown areas close to the base of Mt.
McKinley had been reduced to the heavily glaciated strip lying between the
mountain and Mt. Foraker on the southwest and the portion of the Alaskan range
that extends in a northeasterly direction towards the Tanana River. It was on
the latter approach that Parker and Browne had seen the sloping ridges that
appeared to be climbable, and the decision was made to organize a third expedition
to attack the mountain from that side.
rearrange
Meanwhile, the "Sourdough" Expedition had tackled the North Peak and
claimed to have planted a 14-foot flagpole on its summit - a claim that was discounted
CK with Stuck's book to see if the exped. was as named
and laughed at for many years but which was practically confirmed by the Karstens–
Stuck Expedition three years later. Interest in Mt. McKinley and its unconquered
summit had grown apace. In every camp and settlement in Alaska were to be
found men inured to hardship, accustomed to conditions of cold and snow, and who
were anxious to prove their skill and hardihood in mountain climbing. One such
group of men, prospectors in Fairbanks, set out in the early summer of 1910,
under the leadership of Thomas Lloyd. The party included Charles MacGonagall McGonnagal ,
William Taylor, and Peter Anderson.
Travelling first to the headwaters of the Clearwater River close to the
Muldrow Glacier [: ] which sweeps downward from the northeastern end of Mt. McKinley
they reached the summit of the North Peak, an altitude of 20,000 feet, 300 feet
lower than the South Peak. A detailed account of the climb has not been written.
The Parker-Browne Expedition of 1912 was made in mid-winter and employed dog teams, bought at Seward. The party included, beside its leaders Prof. Herschel
Parker and Belmore Browne, two others of the previous 1910 expedition: Merl La Voy
and Arthur Aten. La Voy and Aten began to move the equipment early in the winter,
using Seward as a base. By the first of February a food and equipment cache had
been established on the Chulitna River and the party assembled at Susitna Station.
After finding and crossing a pass across the range, the party turned westward
and established their base camp on a tributary of the Clearwater River - later
named Cache Creek. Numerous views of the mountain's northeastern end had disclosed
three ridges descending from the twin summits. Between the central and the
northeastern ridges, the Muldrow Glacier offered an approach to the actual base of
the mountain. From that point upward the central northeastern ridge appeared
to be climbable. Food and equipment were transported by dog team to the end of
the glacier, and at that altitude of 10,000 feet the party rested while the dogs
were returned to the base camp which was left in charge of Arthur Aten.
Parker, Browne and La Voy advanced up the glacier. A camp was established on
a low point of the central northeastern ridge and the most difficult part of the
ascent began. Food and equipment were advanced by relays and camps were shovelled
out of the snow at 13,500 feet and, below an outcrop of cliffs, at 15,000 feet.
From this point a traverse was made into the basin between the twin peaks.
A camp was established at 16,000, then another, the final camp, at 16,615 feet.
Meanwhile the food supply was proving to be inadequate. This was caused by
an unexpected flaw in the pemmican which seemed to be indigestible at those high
altitudes. The remaining food consisted solely of hardtack, tea, sugar, and a
few raisins. The physical condition of the party deteriorated rapidly so that the
sub-zero temperatures caused excessive suffering.
From their highest camp the slopes leading to the summit offered no climbing difficulties aside from the usual difficulty in breathing at high altitudes.
On the first attempt to reach the summit the party succeeded in reaching the
nearly level summit ridge at an altitude of about 20,000 feet. During the last
part of the climb, however, they were overtaken by a storm of blizzard proportions
and had to turn back. On this day, the 29th June, the temperature was 23° below
zero and the wind was not less than 55 miles per hour.
After a dangerous and difficult return to camp, the climbers found that their
clothing was so thickly filled with ice particles that a day would have to be
sacrificed to dry it out. On the third day, weakened by lack of proper food,
they once more set out, reaching an altitude of 19,000 feet. Again a storm,
worse than the previous one, forced them to return to camp.
By this time the food supply was so low that an immediate descent was
necessary. The return to their base camp was made successfully and a few days
of rest intervened before setting out on the long journey to the Yukon.
During this period of rest occurred the great earthquake caused by the
eruption of Mt. Katmai. Glaciers and rock ridges were shattered and even the hills
about the base camp were scarred by avalanches. Had the party not been forced
down by the storm they might well have met with catastrophe in this upheaval.
The party back-packed to a tributary of the Kantishna River and travelled down
stream in an abandoned boat which they had repaired, descending to the Tanana River
and thence proceeding to Fort [: ] Gibbon on the Yukon.
The completion of the 1912 journey across the mountain's northern foothills
ma r k r ed the end of the McKinley region as an uncharted wilderness area. A new
gold rush was on, more and more prospectors were invading the region, Mt. McKinley
was soon to be established as a National Park, and subsequent expeditions followed
charted routes.
A fifty year old missionary, Rev. Hudson Stuck, Archdeacon of the Yukon,
headed the next expedition to attempt the ascent of Mt. McKinley, and this expedition, known as the Karstens-Stuck Expedition of 1913, had the honor of
completing the first ascent of the highest peak, that of South Peak, at an
altitude of 20,300 feet. The party consisted of Harry P. Karstens, a "sourdough"
Tatum? and a famous trail-man; Robert G. Tatem, Walter Harper, and some Indian boys from
the Yukon Mission. The mountain was reached via the Kantishna River, with dog
teams. A base camp was established on Cache Creek, and the route followed was
identical to that taken by the Parker-Browne party in 1912. The Central Northeast–
ern Ridge had been broken in places by the earthquake of that year, but otherwise
the party encountered no great difficulties.
This expedition proved that the South Peak is the true summit and, incidentally,
was able to correct a previous injustice. From the great height , Archdeacon Stuck,
surveying the lower North Peak through his glasses, was able to see, he stated, the
14-foot flagpole which the "Sourdough Expedition" of 1910 had claimed to have
planted there - a claim which had hitherto been discounted.
In 1915 1932 two climbing parties were on the mountain simultaneously: the
U.D. Lindley Expedition and the Cosmic Ray Expedition.
The U.D. Lindley party, consisting of Lindley, Erling Strom, Supt. Leik of
the Mt. McKinley Park and Grant Pearson, famous Alaskan trail-man and warden of the
Park, was the first to use an airplane as an aid in reconnaisance and for
transportation of equipment. They were also the first party to ascend both the
North and South Peaks. Skis were used to reach the upper end of the Muldrow Glacier.
The Cosmic Ray Expedition, under the auspices of the University of Chicago,
had for its objective the study of cosmic ray activities at high altitudes. The
members of the party were Edward P. Beckwith, Percy T. Olten Jr., Nicholas
Spadavechia, Theodore Koven and Allen Carp é . The latter two met with tragedy.
On the return journey of the Lindley party to the Muldrow Glacier, an abandoned
tent belonging to the Cosmic Ray party was found. Following the trail down the
glacier they soon found traces of the tent's occupants: Koven lay dead beside a crevasse into which he and Carpe had fallen. Carpe's body was not found, but
Merl La Voy, of the Parker-Browne party, along with Andy Talor and Grant Pearson
were able to convey Koven's corpse back to civilization. Koven's corpse
The U.S. Quartermast Corps Expedition of 1942 was organized as the name
indicates by the U.S. Quartermaster Corps with the cooperation of the Medical Corps,
the Army Air Forces, the Signal Corps, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian
Air Force. Its purpose was to test equipment, food and the physical reactions to
high altitudes for the benefit of troops serving in the Arctic.
Seventeen men composed the party, under the leadership of Col. Frank G.
Marchman, U.S.Q.M.C. The list of members reaching the summit follows: Terris
Moore, Einar Nilsson, Robert H. Bates, Bradford Washburn, Sterling B. Hendricks,
Albert H. Jackman, and Peter W. Webb.
Much of the equipment was dropped by airplane. In fact, the use of planes as
an aid in mountain climbing had, by this time, become an accepted technique. Gone
are the days when the reaching of a wilderness objective required weeks or months
of toil, adventure and exploration. The development of the airplane has abolished
distance and Mt. McKinley, which used to be a remote point in the sub-Arctic wilderness
is now but a two days' flight from New York City.
The Quartermast Corps Expedition suffered, however, a temporary interruption
in 1942, when the Japanese invaded the Aleutians before the completion of the
climb and all available planes had to be sent to western Alaska. Other planes
were eventually secured for the continuance of the project.
During the war eleven different ski-landings were made by army aircraft on the
Muldrow Glacier. These landings demonstrated the practicality and safety of such
methods of approach. Several photographic flights were made, as well, in the
Mt. McKinley-Wonder Lake region. These were made in connection with field tests of
Army Airforce equipment. These photographs, w W hen added to the many stereoscopic photographs taken by the National Geographic Society-Pan American Flights,
and also the photographs made by individuals They comprise a visual record of
practically every foot of the great mountain.
Operation White Tower 1947 was the most ambitious expedition yet directed at
Mt. McKinley. Its purpose was twofold - photographic and scientific - and it
was successful in every way. Sponsored by RKO Radio Pictures (for the acquisition
of snow pictures and high altitude techniques in photography) it had the valuable
cooperation of the New England Museum of [: ] Natural History which, under the
leadership of Bradford Washburn, planned and conducted the expedition and carried
out the scientific objectives.
The scientific objectives were as follows:
1) Cosmic Ray research under the direction of the University of Chicago,
2) A thorough survey of the region between Mt. McKinley and Wonder Lake, with
equipment furnished by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and with B-29s of the
46th Reconnaissance Squadron of the Army Air Forces,
3) A complete geological collection from the base of the mountain to its
summit - corresponding to the work already done at low altitudes by the U.S.
Geological Survey,
4) The compilation of a detailed weather record for the U.S. Weather Bureau,
5) Testing new equipment and foods for the Army Air Forces,
6) The filming of the activities of the expedition.
The members of the Expedition were: Carl Anderson (horses), George Browne (artist),
Haakon Christensen (pilot), Robert W. Craig (American Alpine Club), William Deek e
(RKO cameraman), James E. Gale (10th Rescue Sqdn.), Lt. William D. Hackett (Army
Ground Forces), Robert G. Lange (University of New Hampshire), Earl Norris (dog
driver), Grant Pearson (Chief Ranger, McK. Park), Leonard Shannon (RKO),
William Sterling (RKO), H.T. Victoreen (University of Chicago), Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Washburn (New England Museum), George H. Wellstead (RKO cameraman), and
Sgt. Harvey Solberg (radio operator).
During the month of March, 1947, N.W.Airlines carried 8 passengers and 11,000 lbs.
of equipment from Minneapolis to Fairbanks, Alaska. From Anchorage, equipment was
relayed by small planes and a 3,000 ft. landing strip was marked out on the Muldrow
Glacier. Two reconnaissance flights were made by G-47 planes of the 10th Rescue
Squadron and additional photographs were taken of the higher snowfields.
By April 12th the entire party was assembled at the base camp at McGonigal Pass
and the ascent began.
A procedure of importance, used for the first time on any high mountain, was
the construction of Eskimo snow houses. In his report, Bradford Washburn speaks
in the highest terms of their efficiency. At an altitude of 11,000 ft., three
snow houses were constructed; at 12,000 ft., one snow house was built, at Browne
Tower, [: ] 14,700 ft., two were built, and a large snowhouse
was erected at 16,500 ft. These primitive shelters provided complete protection
from winds that attained one hundred mile velocity and from the sub-zero tempera–
tures that make life in a tent disagreeable.
The basin between the two peaks, famed for its winds and storms, more than
lived up to its evil reputation with nine consecutive days of gales which, blowing
at ninety miles an hour, [: ] played havoc with the equipment and the Geiger
Counters for Cosmic Ray research. When these were blown away duplicates were
rushed from Chicago and were dropped later by plane.
No air-drops were possible between 11,000 ft. and McGon i na gal Pass. This
fact necessitated the back-packing of 600 lbs. of moving picture gear and 500 lbs. of
dog food in addition to the expedition's equipment.
Measurement of the flow of the Muldrow Glacier disclosed a movement of only
15 inches a day at 8,500 ft.
Survey stations were successfully established and a complete collection of geological specimens was secured. The world's highest weather station was operated
while the party was on the mountain and extensive Cosmic Ray experiments were
completed.
On April 30th a 10th Rescue Squadron B-17 dropped 5 cases of ten-in-one-ration
at the 18,000 foot level and later, an 800 lb. pre-fabricated house for use as a
Cosmic Ray laboratory along with 2,000 lbs. of food, gasolene and equipment for army
tests.
The summit was reached on June sixth by the following members of the party:
✓ ? Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Washburn, ? Deek e, Craig, Browne, Gale, Lang and Hackett.
On the following day the North Peak was climbed. Those who made that climb were:
Mr. and Mrs. Washburn, Craig, Gale, Hackett and Sterling. Survey records were
made for the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
The main party began the descent on June 11th. Gale, Lang and Victoreen
remained behind to complete the Cosmic Ray program.
[: ]
Operation White Tower 1947 was in many ways epoch-making. From every point of
view it was successful. With this expedition, [: ] the use of air power for the
transport of equipment had been was shown to be practical even in most difficult
conditions. The White Tower group had still used to a great extent the old methods
of back-packing, but the air-transport successes demonstrated once and for all
that these methods were now out of date and that in future airplanes would more and
more bear the brunt.
While the White Tower party were still on the mountain another group of
climbers, this time an extremely small one consisting of three students from the
University of Alaska, were encountered. The students, Gordon Herried, Henry Daub
and Frank Mills, were so poorly equipped that members of the White Tower party
after offering them food, persuaded them to return to the lowlands. When the White Tower expedition had left the mountain, however, the three University students
once more ascended and succeeded in reaching the summit of the mountain. Without
minimising their effort and success, it must be noted that they benefitted by the
trails that had been broken by White Tower Operation and by the prepared campsites
and large supplies of food and equipment that had been left.
The Gunnason Expedition of 1948 consisted of five climbers: Walter G o u nnason,
John McCall, Charles Pieper, Phil Spaulding and Edward Huizer. As in the case of
the preceding expedition, this was an exclusively climbing venture. The summit
was reached on July 13th, 1948.
It is doubtful that future ascents of Mt. McKinley will add much to our
knowledge of the great peak, so complete have been the scientific and photographic
studies thus far made of it. Occasional scientific expeditions will still, from
time to time, make tests on its icy summit or perform experiments cal u culated to
increase mankind's capacity for dealing with high al [: ] titude conditions. But its
topographic features have been so exhaustively studied by aerial photography that
no climbing party nowadays can hope to add much to that body of information.
The summit has been [: ] conquered, the trails charted. But the great mountain
will still tempt men to put their agility and endurance to the test.
Considering the constant dangers that are attendant upon such ascents, it is
remarkable how few fatalities have been met with on Mt. McKinley. Sub-zero
temperatures, winds of dangerous velocity, crevasses of great depth and enormous
avalanches provide dangerous conditions enough, however, and all ascents of the
mountain should be conducted by men of wide experience with ice, snow, and high
altitudes.
The great twin summits now stand at the centre of a national park and game
preserve. On February 26, 1917, Mt. McKinley National Park was created by act of Congress - a wide area of wilderness which, in 1932, was extended to encompass
an area of 3,030 square miles. It is the habitation of 112 kinds of birds and
35 kinds of mammals, many of which are rare. The willow ptarmigan and the
caribou, for instance, are found in no other national park; the eggs of the
surfbird and the wandering tattler have been found here and nowhere else in the
entire world.
Here many thousand caribou graze, travelling singly, in pairs, or in small
bands. The Alaska moose, largest of the species, is also found here in great
numbers. The handsome wild mountain sheep, known as Dall's Sheep, the horns of
which are such valued trophies of the big-game hunter, finds protection in these
mountain slopes, its only enemy being the wolves over which the Park equally
extends protection. Grizzly bears, red fox, squirrels, procupines, wolverines,
lynx, wolf, coyote, beaver, marten, mink, snowshoe hare, and Alaska cony are also
in the park, glimpsed occasionally among the trees and shrubs. The golden
eagle, golden plover, raven, and magpie are showy birds which astound the tourist.
Among the smaller birds are the woodpeckers, juncos, snow buntings, Alaska jay,
the redpoll, the varied thrush, and the white-crowned [: ] sparrow. The short–
billed gull breeds here, 300 miles inland. In the park waters, where fishing
licenses are not required, trout abound.
The white spruce is the commonest tree here. The white birch is found in
the lower valleys; cottonwoods and aspen are near the streams, and willows are
abundant in their smaller forms. The wild rose grows here, as do the blueberry,
the bearberry and the cinquefoil. In summer the blue larkspur is the showiest
flower, and in spring the dogwood blooms. The white and yellow varieties of the
dryas carpet the slopes and the mountain sheep feed on their foliage.
Excellent roads and trails now thread the [: ] ark, camp grounds are being
prepared, and a modern hotel, operating on the European plan, provides first–
class accommodation for visitors. The eastern boundary of the Park is formed
by Broad Pass, through which the Alaska Railway passes on its way from the Alaskan coast to Fairbanks on the Tanana River. A sixty mile motor highway
extends from the Park Headquarters on the eastern boundary to the McKinley
River which flows from the Muldrow Glacier and Wonder Lake, from which point a
magnificent view of the mountain may be had.
In 1903 the highest mountain on the continent was still isolated within the
depths of an almost untrodden wilderness. It has now become an imposing
attraction for the tourist.
- Belmore Browne.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Browne, Belmore The Conquest of Mount McKinley, N. Y., Putnam, 1913.

Brooks, A. H. The Geography and Geology of Alaska, Wash., D.C.,
G.P.O., 1906. U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. No. 45.

Cook, Frederick A. To the Top of the Continent, New York, Doubleday,
Page, 1908.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, National Park Service, Washington, D. C.:
various pamphlets on Mount McKinley National Park.

Washburn, Bradford "Over the Roof of Our Continent," Nat. Geog. Mag.,
July 1938.

Belmore Browne
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