Mount McKinley

Archive of Past Articles

‘Forever on the Mountain:’ a McKinley saga

Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters

by James M. Tabor

W.W.Norton, New York, 2007. $26.95

Joe Wilcox never met Dr. Frederick Cook, but they do have an interesting connection. Both led expeditions and climbed Mount McKinley. Both of their expeditions generated controversies that have simmered for many years. And both men were at or near the top of the late Brad Washburn’s enemies list for decades while this reviewer achieved the distinction only much later and for a much shorter period. 

Readers of Polar Priorities know how the doctor made the list, but Wilcox used a different route. As a youthful 24-year old graduate student, he organized an expedition with a program to establish simultaneous camps on McKinley’s North and South Peaks. Wilcox then wrote to the expert, Washburn, asking if this had ever been done before. He also requested an expeditious reply since there was media interest in his plan. 



The Return to the Summit

Russian Jubilee Expedition to
Mt. McKinley confirms 1906 route

By Dr. Dmitry Shparo and Oleg Banar

Two Russian expeditions to Alaska, organized by the Adventure Club of Dmitry and Matvey Shparo and the Vokrug Sveta magazine of Moscow convincingly demonstrated that one hundred years ago on September 16, 1906 Dr. Frederick Cook had reached the summit of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak of the North American continent.

See the diary of their expedition on our Polar Priorities page.

“Mt. McKinley, by sheer altitude, not by latitude, pushes its ice-bejeweled
crown into the realm and research of the Boreal midnight sun. For centuries the
Indians watched with awe and admiration this midnight midsummer fire in all its
crowning glory above the clouds, while the lower slopes were bathed in the chilly
blue of the sub-Arctic night. For this reason, if for no other, Mt. McKinley is the
world’s most remarkable mountain.”

Dr. Frederick Cook, 1912

The Controversy Begins 

On April 21, 1908, Dr. Frederick Cook, a well-known American explorer, accompanied by two Inuits– Ahwelah and Etukishook, congratulated each other with having reached the North Pole. Dr. Cook had discovered the northern-most point of the world, where meridians come together and the latitude equals 90 degrees. He announced that there was no open sea, as many scientists thought, nor was there a volcanic island as recounted by Jules Vern’s fictional hero, Captain Gatteras. There were only drifting fields of endless ice. 

A year later on April 6, 1909 renowned explorer Robert Edwin Peary, also arrived at the top of the world. The return of Dr. Cook had been delayed for more than a year and only on September 1, 1909 this possessor of the “grand prize” sent a telegram to the Secretary of the International Bureau for Polar Research: “Reached North Pole April 21, 1908”. (2)

In five days on September 6, 1909 the editor of the New York Times read the similar message from Robert Peary: “I have the Pole April 6, 1909… arrange to expedite transmission big story”. (3)

Dr. Cook’s reaction to the announcement of Robert Peary was quite friendly: “My feeling at the news, as I analyze it, was not of envy or chagrin. I thought of Peary’s hard, long years of effort, and I was glad; I felt no rivalry about the Pole; I did feel, aside from the futility of reaching the Pole itself, that Peary’s trip possibly might be of great scientific value; that he had probably discovered new lands and mapped new seas of ice. There is glory enough for all, I told the reporters”. (4) 


Cook's grand-daughter at McKinley site on Centennial of the first climb in 1906

East Aurora, NY, July 1937:  Dr. Cook visits with Ruth and her husband, 
Robert Hamilton.  Bette is held by her mother and Robert Jr. is at right.

Ruth Glacier, discovered by Cook in his 1903 reconnaissance of Mt. McKinley, was named after his younger daughter. His grand-daughter Bette visited the mountain at Denali National Park 100 years after his first ascent. 

Bette Hamilton Hutchinson, grand-daughter of Dr. Frederick A. Cook, visited the site of what many believe to be his second-greatest exploration achievement, the conquest of North America’s highest mountain on the 100 anniversary of his pioneer climb. 

Bette, a long-time member of the board of the Frederick A. Cook Society and an associate member of the American Alpine Club as well as the American Polar Society, recalled her experience this past September: 

“Denali National Park was vibrant with fall colors (yellow Aspen, green spruce, multi-color low tundra shrubs and flowers) for the four hour trip to our main vantage place for viewing Mt. McKinley. We caught glimpses of the mountain through the trees and hills, and our hopes were high with the cloudless sky and bright sun that we would be among the 30 per cent of visitors who get to see the summit. 

“Psychologically I was prepared for disappointment, but I was not prepared for what I did see. When we reached Stony Point we looked across the autumn tundra and saw the mountain in all its glorious splendor. With the sun high in the sky and snowfall the previous day, the shadows on the mountain radiated like a finely-cut diamond. Later I found that I was not the only person in the group taking pictures through our tears. We understood why McKinley is called the crown jewel. 

“Searching through bookstores for a photo or painting of what we saw I was told that no photographer or painter has yet been able to capture the magnificence of the mountain at its greatest splendor. 

“Further enhancing the experience was knowing that I stood before the mountain 100 years after my grandfather, Dr. Frederick A. Cook reached the summit. Happy Anniversary Grandpa.”


Russians follow Cook 
to Traleika Col on McKinley's east ridge

 The Russian expedition which sought to follow Cook's 1906 route on the east ridge of Mt. McKinley reported that on September 19 of this year they reached the Traleika Col "and were convinced that a descent here is quite possible...and that we have reaffirmed our belief that Dr. Cook made the ascent by this route." 

Oleg Banar Viktor Afanasev
These two Russian clumbers claim some of the top records in their country, Baner having led more than 150 mountaineering expeditions and Afanasev has been nominated as the Russian mountaineering champion on three separate occasions.

Two well-known Russian climbers. Oleg Banar and Viktor Afanasev, were part of the expedition sponsored by the Adventure Club of Moscow with the support of the popular magazine, Vokrug Sveta. The party was organized by Dmitry Shparo and Matvey Shparo as a research expedition.

Matvey Shparo had led the 2002 Russian McKinley expedition of eleven climbers;, two of them mobility-impaired (who utilized wheelchairs in everyday life) to the summit. Banar and Afanasev were among them, and the feat inspired world-wide attention with the inclusion of disabled mountaineers. Their replication of the Traleika Col route was the first since Cook 99 years ago, and also included identification of the sites of Cook's igloo and where he dug an ice cave.

Ted Heckathom, leader of the 1994 Ruth Glacier Expedition that followed Cook's route, said that from the Col's ridge Verne (Tejas) and Scott (Fischer) could see the route to the top, just as Dr. Cook had described it.

The expedition was plagued with bad weather-the worst for September in many years according to park rangers-having only four of 18 days fully clear. The Shparos indicate that they will return to McKinley in Spring of 2006 the Centennial year of Cook's first ascent of the highest point in North America.

Denali:  "The Great One."
Climbing North America's Icy Giant

by Jim Garlinghouse

"The adventurer in each of us yearns to explore these icy reaches, where we seem to get a broader perspective on our own minuteness and, at the same time, our own significance."

Andy Selters


A cold, biting wind whistled down from the sharp-edged mountains behind Ushuaia, Argentina. Zipping my parka against the cold and leaning slightly into the breeze, I made my way toward a dilapidated phone booth at the end of the dock. Moored in its berth was the Russian ship on which I had spent the last three months working as a naturalist/polar historian, cruising the continent of Antarctica. We had arrived earlier that morning. Now, with time to kill, I thought I’d make some phone calls.
                                                                               >     READ THE FULL ACCOUNT

Book Review:
Dishonorable history: The last literary
hurrah of Brad Washburn

The Dishonorable Dr. Cook: Debunking the Notorious McKinley Hoax
by Bradford Washburn and Peter Cherici (The Mountaineers Books, 2001, 192 pages)

Four years ago Brad Washburn advised me that he was writing a book about Dr. Cook that "would knock my socks off." Recently, when this new book finally arrived, I tied my shoelaces with double knots before opening the odd-sized volume. A quick glance at the contents revealed that book's unusual shape was to accommodate the numerous photographs. The text represents Washburn's 60-plus years of research about Dr. Cook's controversial assertion that he reached the summit of Mount McKinley in 1906.
                                                                               >     READ THE FULL ACCOUNT

The "Fake Peak" Serials


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Belmore Browne, 1910
Fake Peak I 1910

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American Alpine Journal, 1958
Fake Peak II 1957

As shown in The New York Times
Fake Peak III 1998


DIO's Denali Denial & the Media Campaign for a 'Final Solution' to Cook as Discoverer

1 The DIO Genesis & One-sided Media 'Controversy'

by Russell W. Gibbons

On November 22, 1998 this writer received a call from a reporter at The New York Times asking for materials which would support the claims of Frederick A. Cook to the first ascent of Mt. McKinley in September 1906. They were interested, he said, because of the "recent" article in the Baltimore journal, DIO, which had earlier in the year proclaimed that the Cook-McKinley controversy was "closed" because of the research of a contributor, Robert M. Bryce. ......... guys.jpg (14284 bytes)

It was the "Final Solution," declared Dennis Rawlins, founder and publisher of the journal, a critic of orthodox history of science with a somewhat mixed track record for accuracy and timing (more on this later). Heading the cheering section in the background was the indefatigable Bradford Washburn, spiritual heir to Cook's critic of his 1906 climb and the creator of "Fake Peak," the 89-year-old thesis that was supposed to have demolished the explorer, but never did.

                                                                                                          >     READ THE FULL ACCOUNT


Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society