National Geographic : 1965 Jul
Mount Kennedy: The First Ascent would be essential to ground surveying, which together with high-altitude aerial photogra phy would provide detailed maps of a 150 square-mile area. I was honored when the Society asked me to join the Mount Kennedy party. Perhaps its officers thought of me because in 1963 I was a member of the first American expedition to climb Mount Everest, highest peak in the world at 29,028 feet. The National Geographic Society had been the largest single supporter of that expedition, and I appreciated all that the Society had done for exploration and mountaineering.* Even so, I reluctantly declined at first. My wife Blanche has mixed feelings about moun taineering. When I was on Everest, she was very worried. And I had been away from her and our boys-Carl, 10, and Scott, 8-on climbs for many months in the past few years. Then I learned from the Society that Sena tor Kennedy had accepted its invitation to take part in the first ascent as a representative of the family. I was asked to be his guide and companion. "Jim," Blanche said, "you've got to go." She felt I could help the Senator. That was all I needed. Besides, I had-and will always have-a very vivid mental pic ture of the smiling young President of the United States as he presented us with the Na tional Geographic Society's gold Hubbard Medal on a glorious July day in the White House Rose Garden, only a few months before his assassination. Anything I could do for his family I wanted to do. I told the Society it could count on me. Climbers Fitted with Everest-type Gear By telegram from Washington, D. C., we obtained the Senator's clothing and shoe sizes, learning that he is a wiry 5 feet 10, weighing 165 pounds. When he flew into Seattle on March 21, I had his equipment all stowed in duffel bags and packs-the same kind of gear and clothing that we used on Everest: Sleeping bag with quarter-inch foam pads to help ward off the cold-we prepared for temperatures as low as 35° below zero. Under wear of down, down vest, down hood, even down gloves. Down booties for camp wear, rubber Korean overboots for the climb, nylon parka and pants. Crampons and ice ax. Prus ik sling for extricating oneself from a crevasse. Goggles, face mask, hat, sun lotion, candy bars, beef jerky, pemmican, energy food. His pack, loaded, weighed 45 pounds. The 120-foot nylon rope he would be tied to, 7/16 inch thick, could stand 4,000 pounds and stretch a third of its length before parting. Next morning Bob, Brad Washburn, and I flew by airliner to Juneau, capital of Alaska (map, page 12). There a chartered plane flew us on to Whitehorse-where bad news greet ed us. Low clouds between us and Mount Kennedy made flying unsafe. We couldn't get in to Base Camp, established at 8,700 feet a week earlier by our five-man advance party. Canadians Provide a Magic Carpet But soon a Royal Canadian Air Force jet was sent out on weather reconnaissance. Meanwhile a large RCAF helicopter had set down to refuel. Expedition leader Washburn asked if it could be made available to us. A phone call was put in to Ottawa. We tossed darts, waiting. Our Canadian member, James Craig, a Vancouver, British Columbia, lawyer and mountaineer, joined us. Now we were an international expedition. Good news. The jet radioed a favorable weather report, and the RCAF helicopter would lift us to Base Camp. Brad Washburn would ride to camp with us, showing us the way, and return in the chopper to Whitehorse. I stole a glance at the Senator as we flew over jagged Yukon peaks. He reminded me strongly of President Kennedy-same head of hair, same eyes. He was reading a book by Winston Churchill, underlining parts of it. When we landed, he was the first man off. I sized up the mountain we would tackle up to now I knew it only from photographs. Immediately I thought of Everest. Base Camp's two tents-one for eating and sleeping, the other for equipment and supplies - sat on a great glacier in a natural amphi theater. Beetling crags of granite and glit tering icefalls walled us in. A cascade of ice pushed through a cleft in front of me. On the right, the first shoulder of Mount Kennedy towered far above. To the left rose the snow clad southern buttress of Mount Hubbard, flanked by tawny granite crags. The terrain seemed transported from the high Himalayas, half a world away (page 13). Barry Prather, at 26 our youngest climber, and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographer (Continued on page 20) *See, in the October, 1963, GEOGRAPHIC: "Six to the Summit," by Norman G. Dyhrenfurth; "How We Climbed Everest," by Barry C. Bishop; "The First Trav erse," by Thomas F. Hornbein and William F. Unsoeld, and "President Kennedy Presents the Hubbard Medal."