National Geographic : 1938 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Institute of Geographical Exploration, at Harvard University, for a series of photo graphic flights around and over Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker which would take a complete group of pictures, show ing in its entirety North America's highest range of mountains. An aerial photographic flight over such rough country as the Alaska Range, where a forced landing is entirely out of the ques tion and where few if any repairs can be made on delicate and complicated camera equipment, must be planned with extreme care. Although our two flights around Mount McKinley lasted but three and a half hours each, every detail had been pains takingly worked out for nearly three months before we actually took off. FAIRBANKS BASE OF FLIGHTS After our rather harrowing experiences with single-motored planes not equipped with radio during the Yukon Expedition of 1935, we were determined, if possible, to have both a multimotored airplane and a two-way radio on the Mount McKinley flights of 1936. From the Pan American Airways the expedition chartered a magnifi cent Lockheed Electra monoplane, also a crack pilot and radioman. The flights could safely be made with this airplane and crew operating out of a well-equipped base at Fairbanks, about 160 miles from Mc Kinley's summit (page 89). Major Albert W. Stevens, of Wright Field, in Dayton, Ohio, leader of the Na tional Geographic Society's Stratosphere Expeditions, loaned us a large Fairchild K-6 aerial camera. Other important equipment, such as light filters, small instruments and film maga zines for the Fairchild camera, was loaned by Dr. Hamilton Rice, Director of the In stitute of Geographical Exploration. Para chutes were donated by the Irving Air Chute Company, of Buffalo, and the breath ing oxygen, which was used constantly dur ing photographic work above altitudes of 15,000 feet, was furnished by Walter Kidde & Company, of New Jersey. Actively participating in the flights were S. E. Robbins, pilot; Robert L. Gleason, radio; Bradford Washburn, photographer and director, and A. Lincoln Washburn, as sistant (not a close relative of mine), who had been an important member of the Mount Crillon Expedition of 1934. Glea son and Robbins, regular employees of Pa- cific Alaska Airways, lived in Fairbanks. Lincoln Washburn, his wife, and I left Seattle on the S. S. Alaska, July 4, 1936. We were safely at Fairbanks with all of our equipment installed in the ship and ready to operate by the morning of July 11. Although visibility appeared better dur ing March and April, the lowlands are still white with melting winter snow until about the middle of June, and it is not until July and August that the real immensity of Mount McKinley, rising a sheer 18,000 feet above the broad green plains of the interior, can be appreciated. The morning of July 12 dawned glori ously clear except for a few low cloud banks to the southwestward at an altitude of between six and eight thousand feet. We keenly desired to get pictures showing the peak of McKinley towering, as it so often does in summer, thousands of feet above a sea of low-lying clouds. A telephone call to the Savage River Camp in Mount McKinley National Park ascertained that it was foggy and raining there. To make certain of the conditions around the upper part of the mountain, we made a short hop directly over Fairbanks to a height of 10,000 feet in our Fairchild 71 monoplane. We climbed lazily up in wide circles, finally breaking through the top of the overcast at about 8,000 feet. As far as the eye could reach, a sea of silvery fog stretched off to the southwest ward. At 9,000 feet the white summit of McKinley slowly appeared, nosing its way upward between two puffy cumulus clouds on the distant horizon, over 150 miles away. At 10,000 feet the peak rose, clear and distinct, into the deep-blue sky over the shifting banks of clouds. A PERFECT TAKE-OFF Radioing down to the airport, lost be neath the broken clouds below, to warm up the Electra and prepare it for our first flight, we circled speedily back to earth, landing shortly after ten in the morning. At 11:10 the oxygen equipment and camera had been given a final check, the motors were warmed, and Robbins made a perfect take off. The clouds were melting above us and the sun was hot (72 degrees) as we left the ground at Fairbanks. Our fur flying suits, mufflers, and mittens were heaped on an unoccupied seat in the front of the cabin till the air cooled enough to put them on!