A vivid revisitation of a historic Alaskan mountain climbing expedition.
In 1967, when Hall, former editor and publisher of Alaska magazine, was 5, his father, the superintendent at Mount McKinley National Park, took him along after being dispatched to the mountain (known to locals as “Denali”) to rescue climbers swept up in whiteout blizzard conditions at the summit. The author’s memory of that event proved enduring enough for him to spend seven years skillfully gathering documentation and verbatim testimonials of the event in which hypothermia claimed the lives of seven brave mountaineers. Brigham Young University student Joe Wilcox, a novice climber with prodigious ambitions, enlisted a group of adventurers of varying experience levels to accompany him on a whirlwind ascent of Mount McKinley. Hall intricately describes their epic trek from its beginnings along the Alaska Highway through seven sequentially numbered campsites along the mountainside, where grievances were aired and dissolved as the group bonded while carefully acclimatizing themselves to avoid oxygen-deficiency–inducing hypoxia. With only a two-day weather forecast, a small, agreed-upon combination of both groups successfully reached Denali’s summit. However, an unprecedented combination of storm fronts in the wake of the second team’s ascent would strand them on the summit approach. Hall delivers this tragic event through his recounting of recorded radio conversations, journal entries and pages of grisly detail. Amplifying the narrative is an opening section of statistical data on the extreme nature of Denali’s “remote and exotic” terrain, its frosty and unpredictable atmospheric conditions, and other expeditions that have attempted to scale its towering 20,320-foot peak.
A dramatic and respectful homage to 12 intrepid mountaineers who sought to master not only the tallest mountain in North America, but “arguably the biggest mountain on the planet.”