National Geographic : 1953 Aug
Mount McKinley Conquered by New Route 219 Landing by Plane on a Glacier, Climbers Pioneer a Western Approach to North America's Loftiest Peak By BRADFORD WASHBURN With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author «~ ELT fastened tight?" shouted Dr. Terris Moore above the sputtering of the airplane's idling engine. I nodded. "Okay, here we go!" Our little two-seated single-engine craft started bumping down the gravel runway of the airport at Chelatna Lake, 100 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska. In another moment we were off on an ad venture which already had my heart pounding with mixed feelings of excitement and, I must admit, a certain amount of apprehension. Ahead of us, though invisible in a blanket of fog, towered the 20,300-foot snow-capped cone of mighty Mount McKinley, loftiest peak in North America. McKinley was named in 1896 for the Re publican presidential nominee of that year by W. A. 1)ickey, who was prospecting in the vicinity. Long before, the Alaskan natives had called it, more appropriately, Denali, the Great One. It had been climbed only six times before our 1951 assault. Mountain Climbing by Airplane We were going to try what time after time had been declared impossible-to climb Mc Kinley's rugged West Buttress (page 230). More exciting still, we were going to try to do at least a third of the climb by airplane. To accomplish this, Terry Moore would have to land his tiny plane on the unexplored surface of Kahiltna Glacier. This huge ice river writhes down McKinley's slopes between rock cliffs thousands of feet high. Our expedition had a threefold purpose: first, to test my theory that McKinley's West Buttress actually offered a shorter, safer way to the top than the usual route up the north east side; second, to study the geology of this tremendous mass of rock; and third, to do essential survey work for a new large-scale map of the area immediately around Mount McKinley. Part of this map is published for the first time in this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE (pages 236-237). Our undertaking was sponsored by the Uni versity of Denver, the University of Alaska, and Boston's Museum of Science. McKinley's distinction as our continent's highest mountain alone would justify making a map of it. In addition, it is the main feature of Mount McKinley National Park, which is attracting increasing numbers of visitors now that the famous Alaska Highway has made the country accessible by automobile.* Important, too, is the fact that McKinley's height and position, only 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle, make it an ideal laboratory for many kinds of scientific research. Arctic Equipment Tested Here During World War II three military expedi tions used its high slopes to test clothing, equipment, and food for troops and plane crews operating in extremely cold climates. McKinley's heights also provide a lookout for observing cosmic rays, which constantly bombard the earth from outer space.t It furnishes a fine opportunity for weather observations, tests of the effect of a decrease in oxygen on the human body, and high-fre quency radio research. It was to make this great natural laboratory easier to reach that we were seeking a better route to the top of McKinley and preparing a detailed map of its slopes and glaciers. Terry Moore, who was going to try to land me on Kahiltna Glacier, is not only an experi enced bush pilot but was also president of the University of Alaska (he retired this summer). If we could land successfully, he was to leave me there with a small radio, camped on a smooth snow plateau. After this it should not prove too difficult to fly in to the glacier camp my first three companions, Dr. Henry Buch tel, James E. Gale, and Capt. William D. Hackett. With the radio I could tell them be fore they even took off what the weather was like at my end of the line. Kahiltna Glacier is one of the largest in the Alaska Range and one of the roughest. To helpusfindourwayupit,wehadwithusa The Author: Dr. Bradford Washburn is a noted mountain explorer and director of the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts. He has reached the summit of Mount McKinley three times, and Mrs. Washburn is so far the only woman to have climbed it. For other mountaineering articles by Dr. Wash burn, see the two-volume NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Cumulative Index, 1899-1952. * See "Wildlife of Mount McKinley National Park," pages 249-270 in this issue. t See "Trailing Cosmic Rays in Canada's North," by Martin A. Pomerantz, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1953.