National Geographic : 1938 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE diately below this summit tremendous prec ipices of deeply gullied, avalanche-swept rock drop almost vertically more than 8,000 feet to the heads of the Ruth and Toki chitna Glaciers. At 12:45 we had gained an altitude of 20,200 feet, just a trace lower than the top of the south peak. This was our third circuit of the summit and this time we flew less than a mile from the top of the south peak and directly over the summit of the north peak. There was scarcely a breath of wind as we closed in on the summit to photograph it as near as it was safe to fly. This absence of wind was a piece of good fortune. Flying so close would have been out of the question with the usual north west gale that prevails at this altitude nearly all over northern North America. ONE OF THE EARTH'S COLDEST SPOTS Despite the fact that we were circling the peak of Mount McKinley at high noon on one of the warmest days of the year, the temperature outside the cabin registered 14 degrees below zero, a solemn reminder that we were flying over one of the coldest spots on earth. At one o'clock, after taking several infra red photographs of the summit, we com pleted our pictures for the day and headed northeast once more, our nose pointed gently downward toward Fairbanks, our cameras stowed safely forward in the cabin. The radio told us that the skies were rapidly clouding in at Fairbanks, but that the lower ceiling was still about 6,000 feet. Traveling a compass course above the overcast, we flew till dead reckoning placed us well beyond the area where we knew mountains below us were poking their peaks into the lower side of the clouds. Once more we dropped into the mist. The sun faded away and our silver fairy land was gone. Five minutes later the fog below us thinned and melted away. Be neath us lay the little cluster of houses of the town of Nenana. Robbins' calculations had been perfect. We had picked up terra firma exactly where he had predicted. At 2:15 we circled the Fairbanks air port, headed into the wind for a landing, and the first flight over McKinley was com pleted. This first flight had given us excellent shadowed cross lighting for pictures of the eastern and western faces of McKinley, but our pictures of the north side at that time of day were directly into the light and lacked detail in the shadows, while those of the south side had no shadows at all. To get a complete group of pictures with good lighting, it was necessary to make one more flight, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. July 13, 14, and 15 were heavily overcast at Fairbanks, with a storm raging about the Alaska Range. However, on the eve ning of the 15th, radio reports from several of the western Alaskan towns indicated that fair weather was returning. Before going to bed we loaded cameras, clothes, film, and oxygen aboard the Electra, and filled her gas tanks to the brim in hope of good luck in the morning. The 16th dawned magnificently clear. We took off again at 9:30, and in another three-and-a-half-hour flight with perfect lighting conditions we succeeded in getting exactly the pictures we wanted of the two unphotographed sides of the mountain. Our luck with the weather was phenom enal, for again, on the 17th, sunrise came without a cloud in the sky and we com pleted our last flight early in the morning a three-hour trip northeastward to make in frared photographs of the Alaska Range from long distances across the great central Alaskan lowlands. Forest-fire smoke, swiftly rising high into the sky the moment that the rays of the sun had warmed the air near the surface of the ground, shattered our hopes of getting a picture of the mountain from a distance of 300 miles or more from over the valley of the Porcupine River. We did, however, succeed in obtaining one exposure on this flight which shows the peak clearly from a distance of 295 miles, right over Fort Yukon, its summit dome just peeking from behind a rising bank of smoke. Two other photographs taken over the Chatanika River Valley on the same flight show McKinley and Foraker with the central Alaskan lowlands in the foreground from distances of 220 and 180 miles. All of the pictures taken on the last flight were made with infrared light on a specially treated infrared sensitive film and a red filter. On July 18, the Mount McKinley Flight Expedition broke up, its work successfully completed in less than a quarter of the time that we had expected it would take. The summer of 1936 and its glorious weather will linger long in the memories of Alaskans. No summer in many, many years has been so continually bright and sunny in the Northland.