Duke of Abruzzi versus Interior Alaska

Don’t worry; you didn’t miss it. My posts on K2’s earliest photos haven’t been published yet. They are slowly being developed. So check back for that in a bit.

But in the course of looking at K2 and its related topics I’ve had several thoughts about one of its most famous explorers. He was made famous before his K2 expedition for climbing what was believed to be the highest mountain in North America.

In 1897, the elevations of certain peaks were not certain and word that Mount McKinley/Denali was the highest only started making its way around certain circles early in the year. By the spring, Luigi Amedeo, a.k.a. the Duke of Abruzzi, was en route with a large entourage under his leadership to reach the summit of Mount St. Elias (18,008 ft./5,489 m.) He and his people traveled across the Atlantic to America, went cross country to Seattle where they chartered a boat, before chartering smaller boats to take them to the shore off of Mount St. Elias and hiking the remaining distance.

He and his large team struggled upward for about a month before making the mountain’s very first ascent. A formidable accomplishment done with no beta and mostly grit and determination.

I can’t help but wonder if the Duke had set his heart on summitting Denali instead, could he and his men have done it?

Traveling across Alaska’s interior is, in many ways, a different challenge than managing the coastal areas. The scope is much larger, even without established paths. The first inhabitants of Alaska laid relatively few trails cross country and what trails that existed were only occasionally used for trading and hunting. Even if the roads were navigatable, river crossings could be like an impenetrable obstacle depending on conditions. Railroads, highways, ferries and bridges wouldn’t be built until shortly after the Duke’s adventure.

An example of a cross country journey of this magnitude came only a few years later with no new infrastructure to help: In 1902 a U.S. Geological Survey team of nine traveled to Rainy Pass (which is about 125 miles northwest of Anchorage and part of the southwestern arm of the Alaska Range.) It took them 105 days to cover the 80 miles to the Pass from Cook Inlet.

This means the Duke’s relatively short journey inland to Mount St. Elias was easy and brief compared to what might have been required to get to Denali. Mount St. Elias is a mere 10 mi./16 km. from the Taan Fjord off Icy Bay. If the Duke and his party could have made it from Anchorage to the Alaska Range around Denali, he and his party would have had to navigate getting to the mountain, which is most easily accessible from the north, not the south, where they would have likely started such an expedition.

The Duke and his men would have had to start their journey to America sooner than they had and been prepared to start their journey as early as March or April — the edge of winter — just to allow sufficient time to reach the range and explore its defenses and navigate the passes.

On his Mount St. Elias expedition, the Duke is also remembered for taking a brass bed frame with him to sleep in at base camp. Years later, when he explored the Korakorum to attempt K2, he left it behind. He must have realized the effort involved to move it was great. There is an anecdote from the approach to Mount St. Elias where he scolds photographer Victorio Sella for having a porter carry his camera equipment; the Duke made it a policy that each man must carry his own gear (though the bed must have been considered part of the camp equipment). It seems this policy was wise but not yet take to its logical extreme as it was on the K2 expedition. Perhaps the bed would have been left behind in the Alaska Interior for some future prospector or lazy bear.

Now, assuming the Alaskan Interior made for a difficult journey and that the expedition came prepared for the hard slog, he would have come to the southern side of the Alaska Range, still far from the top, in summer time with less stable ice and snow conditions, and no beta on what route would suit his team’s skills and abilities best. But that’s for my next post…

As always, I’m glad you dropped by. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Like you, I believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Sources: 1) National Parks Service; 2) Waterman, Jonathan, A Most Hostile Mountain, 1997

The Climbers and the Dreamers

Wherever I go, things related to the mountains always catch my eye, even in mundane places. My doctor’s office has a small, exotic poster of Lohtse and Everest from the north hidden by the door to the lab to honor a doctor who recently passed away — it once hung in his office and I admire it every time I go for an appointment. At garage sales and used book sales I enjoy finding used climbing books (stories, guides and coffee table books). I recently stumbled upon this…

At Wolter’s Bakery (Szalay 2012)

During my brief visit to Buffalo, New York for my 10-year college reunion, I dropped into Wolter’s Bakery for a frosted sugar cookie. I found two slightlyfaded magazine clippings of Mount McKinley / Denali on a clear day. They were taped to the glass by the dining area they way a high schooler would tape up photos of his favorite celebrity.

The owner of the bakery and I spoke for a moment. She wanted to visit the mountain and Alaska but hadn’t done it yet. “It’s a life dream,” she said.

I spend a small amount of time mentally flogging myself for missing the opportunity to climb Mount Rainier a few years ago; I thought there would always be time and resources. Instead I visited Denali National Park. At least the time wasn’t completely lost.

The baker hadn’t made the pilgrimage to see the mountain for herself yet. I told her to “just go.” I should have emphasized the urgency: You never know what life might bring from new responsibilities to financial commitments that can preclude your dream from coming to fruition.

Some of us pursue the dream, some of us just dream. I hope the baker and all of you get to do a little of both.

As an aside, I spoke briefly with Joanna Croston from the Banff Centre yesterday about the Book Competition portion of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. The review process of the nominated books is well underway. The more-than-35 pre-readers are reading over six books each and submitting their evaluations. When the finalists are announced, I look forward letting you know.

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

Denali’s Southeast Spur and Boyd N. Everett, Jr.


Denali Rising Stark. (All rights reserved)

It’s a shame that when I’m researching a particular climber the only thing that routinely comes to the forefront are brief reports of his untimely death. In these instances remembering that our sport is hardly mainstream and most people do not care to the degree I do. But the public’s attention is usually brief and dismissive of climbers accomplishments and art except when tragedy strikes.

So be it. We get it.

But Boyd N. Everett, Jr. didn’t settle for that.

Everett was an alpinist that, according to his friends that knew him, wanted the community to know about and understand more about climbing. He was a nerdy, reserved securities analyst for the Lehman Corporation from New York City by day, and a frequent visitor to the ‘Gunks and organizer of aggressive mountaineering expeditions on his days off. He also taught climbing lessons to youth groups, shared countless slide shows to church groups and other audiences, and later made films of his climbs.

He was an unassuming presence most people never took seriously as a climber if you hadn’t climbed with him. In fact, even in Talkeetna he was the subject of ridicule prior to his historic first ascent of Denali’s Southeast Spur in 1962. He carried around his briefcase in town for days until the weather cleared and his team could attack. Many others in New York had no idea of his climbing interest and accomplishments until late in his life. It seems he started coming into his own then.

His accomplishment on the new route on Denali was a remarkable feat in logistics and bullheadedness. They dealt with hard ice, tunneling and rough weather. The route require endless step chopping, rock climbing, climbing cornices and seracs at 10,800 ft. (a section known as “The Fluting,”) and overcoming an overhanging ice wall . One pitch at 10,700 ft. took the group all day to overcome because of the hollow snow and difficulty in setting up protection. At the end of the Spur, the team, knowing they didn’t have sufficient food supplies for all, sent Everett and partner Sam Cochrane to the South Summit.

Everett wrote the quintessential treatise on climbing in Alaska in those days, The Organization of an Alaskan Expedition, which, according to Jonathan Waterman, was copied by untold numbers of dreamers and climbers that wanted to do something big. His leadership and vision also took himself and his teams of climbers to the four highest mountains in North America and to an attempt on Dhaulagiri (26,795 ft./8,167 m.) It was the 1969 attempt on a new route on Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas that cut his life short in an avalanche around 16,500 ft. along with six of his teammates.

There are two records that I am quite impressed by and one I’ve always wanted to duplicate. Everett held the world’s highest recorded game of bridge on Mount Logan (19,551 ft./5,959 m.) He also hit one heck of a golf drive over the side of Mount St. Elias! I’ve always wanted to carry a ball and a club up to the top of some peak and whack it for everything I could in some sort of sense of victory, freedom, and endless space. I can imagine how Everett might have felt in his follow through.

Everett has a memorial fund established in his name that is now part of the ongoing American Alpine Club Mountaineering Fellowship Fund Grant. It was initiated from an endowment from his estate. It’s a fitting way for this man to allow his life to contribute more to climbing, just as he wanted others to know more about and understand climbing better.

Thanks for coming by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

Sources: 1) Waterman, Jonathan, High Alaska: A Historical Guide to Denali, Mount Foraker, & Mount Hunter, American Alpine Club Press, 1999; 2) 1964 American Alpine Journal, pp. 167-8; 3) 1968 American Alpine Journal, pp. 498-500.

Several Perish on Denali in 2011

Updated: June 28, 2011

It’s only June 1 and much of the climbing news has been on the deadly accidents on Mount McKinley/Denali in the Alaska Range. I don’t ordinarily cover accidents and deaths in our sport on this the Suburban Mountaineer — it’s sadness is something I prefer to casually avoid– but this has been difficult to ignore with any forced grace.

  • May 12, 2011 — Beat Niederer (33) of Switzerland died around 18,000 ft. of unknown causes after a fall.
  • May 16, 2011 —  Luciano Colombo (67) of Italy died from injuries in a 1,000-foot fall between Denali Pass and the 17,200 ft. High Camp.
  • May 25, 2011 — Alpine Ascents International Guide Suzanne Allen (34) Seattle, Washington and one of her clients, Peter Bullard (45) of China  passed away as the result of an unwitnessed fall along Denali Pass around 18,000 ft.
  • June 10, 2011 — Alaskan resident Brian Young (52) died of “apparent cardiac arrest” after going to sleep in the 17,200 ft. High Camp. It has been historically rare for Alaskans to perish on the mountain.

It should be noted that accidents elsewhere in Denali National Park also occurred in the same span of time: Two other deaths occurred between May 21 and May 23, 2011 when they were over due.  Jiro Kurihara (33) of Canmore, Alberta and Junya Shiraishi (28) of Sapporo, Japan were attempting a new route on the west face of Mt. Frances when they died in an avalanche.

According to the National Park Service, “As of the morning of May 14, there were 282 climbers attempting Mt. McKinley. Eight summits have been recorded thus far. A total of 1,029 climbers are registered to climb during the 2011 season.”

Others have been injured and many lives have been disrupted from these events, no doubt. Events like this remind me that “it’s okay, just Denali,” isn’t true. It’s Denali. Be careful!

I sincerely hope that what remains of the climbing season goes smoothly for all the climbers; the rate of incidents was high this season, though tragedy hits regularly every year.

On the upside, it’s been 10 years since Erik Weihenmayer became the first person to summit Mount Everest in May 2001. Congrats to Erik for the inspiration that he has given to so many mountaineers and non-mountaineers alike!

Well, thanks for visiting again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. I normally post on this site early in the week and late in the week  — except lately while work and some good life changes are going on — and share news and other information on the social networking pages as it becomes known to me. Happy climbing!

Mount Rainier and then onto Alaska

I’ve got an exciting announcement to share with you. Over the next few months I am going to do a series of posts on all things Mount Rainier. Later I will focus on Mount McKinley and then expand to the broader Alaska Range. I will continue to provide insight on alpine and hiking events, trends and news periodically as I always have.

I am going to start by covering Mount Rainier from its climbing history, the guides, the routes, the Wonderland Trail, Paradise, Camp Muir, and maybe even some of the speculations about what would happen if it ever blew its snow cone!

After that, I am going to discuss climbing Denali and later broaden out to the greater Alaska Range, including Mount Foraker, Mooses Tooth, Little Switzerland, the air services, guides and even romantic Talkeetna.

My idea for this comes from what I thought I would do once I completed college, started my career and had some income. I would have climbed Rainier on a long weekend, maybe moved to Seattle, then traveled every chance I could to climb in Alaska. Well, let’s say things did work out that way and it’s not heading that way. But I will share the knowledge I have and will be finding as I review some new information and pull on some old stuff.

If you’re interested in following these posts, please consider getting updates from me on the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. There, you’ll also get news and other interesting mountain life and adventure news and information as I come across it.

Here we go!

Denali Solo in January Not to Be

Polar explorer and new mountaineer Lonnie Dupre was attempting to pull off a first for the darkest and possibly hardest month of the year on Denali (20,320 ft./6,194 m.).  Only two alpinists have ever stood on Denali’s summit in the month of January (if my memory serves correctly).  Still, no one has done it alone during that month and Dupre could not change that. 

At least not this time.

Based on his previous accomplishments and what he endured to attain 17,200 ft. (5,243 m.), including several days in snow caves, high winds and even an earthquake, Dupre probably has it in him to try again. 

Even if he does not return, he tried and so far he is nearly back down (if he is not down already) to his base camp alive and in one piece. 

Well thanks again for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Facebook or Twitter (@SuburbanMtnr).