Boldest Ascent in Alaska: No. 5

1963 Wickersham Wall Direct

I wrote that the Harvard Route on Denali, a.k.a. Wickersham Wall Direct, about this route not long ago. It actually surfaces in daydreams now and then. Sometimes it’s haunting.

In the spring of 1963, Harvard University students of the Harvard Mountaineering Club Hank Abrons, Rick Millikan, Peter Carman, John Graham, Don Jensen, David Roberts, and Chris Goetze drove from Boston, Massachusetts across the continent and north to Denali National Park and Preserve. Their objective was the north face of Denali. The artful black and white photography of Bradford Washburn helped inform them of their “preferred” route.

The wall rises from an ice fall, of cleaved glacial fissures, at a mere 5,000 feet, and then rises in a steep, and steady slope for 15,000 feet to the mountain’s modestly junior north summit.

The route was extremely dangerous and it was the first big mountain any of them have ever attempted. Roberts would later explain in multiple places that they climbed in a state of naivety. They thought the whizzing sound of rocks flying past them, the tumbling down the slope only an arm’s stretch away, and the frequent avalanches,  were part of the routine experience. More matured climbers might have retreated or may not have started up at all.

Still, all of the climbers escaped uninjured and the first — and to date only — ascent of the Wickersham Wall Direct remains unrepeated.

It is without a doubt one of the boldest ascents in Alaska and on an iconic setting, which is why it is number five.

Be sure to check in tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. time for the fourth boldest ascent in Alaska. [To jump to the next post, click here.]

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