Mount McKinley


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) 

Prosecution of Cook continued in life and after his death. 

On the contrary, the reaction of Peary after receiving the news about Dr. Cook’s success was extremely pained. He sent the message to the New York Herald: “…for your information Cook has simply handed the public a gold brick…” (5) and calmed his wife: “Delayed by gate. Don’t let Cook’s story worry you”. (6)

Having not yet examined Dr. Cook’s diaries and having only heard about his attainment of the North Pole, why was Peary immediately so irritated and upset? There is only one answer: Peary pictured himself as the first conqueror of the North Pole. Had Dr. Cook gotten to the North Pole, or not; was he a liar or an honest man, were not questions that burdened Peary. There was only one thought on his mind: to grind Dr. Cook into dust, for then Peary would be credited for being the first, Peary’s rich and influential Arctic Club supported their hero completely. Months after his triumphant announcement of reaching the North Pole Dr. Cook was declared as a world class liar, a thief, a scoundrel and insane. The prosecution of Dr. Cook continued all his life and in fact continued after his death as well. 

Barrill’s Affidavit 

After his successful expeditions to remote regions of the Earth – Greenland and Antarctica, in 1903 Dr. Cook who was 38 at this time, set out for the comparatively close Alaska with the ambitious aim to conquer Mt. McKinley, which had been acknowledged as the highest peak of North America only six years earlier. The polar crown remained unattainable, but Dr. Cook’s team carried out a 1200-km expedition around the mountain, judging by the incredible hardships overcome by the team and by the vastly important geographical field work, it was considered to be one of the foremost exploratory efforts ever undertaken in the Alaska region. 

The route along the Ruth Amphitheater and the NorthFork of the Ruth Glacier. Descent from the Gunsight Peak and the route along the Traleika Glacier. 

There were hardly any people in America who doubted the capabilities and the talents of Dr. Cook, and in the summer of 1906 he organized a second expedition to the glacial transcendental summit of Mt. McKinley. 

It was again a failure. But Dr. Cook with his inherent persistence started the third assault on Mt.McKinley. Finally, on September 16 Dr. Frederick Cook and his companion Edward Barrill ascended the summit of Mt. McKinley. 

Adherents of Peary had bribed Edward Barrill, and after receiving $5,000.00 he swore an affidavit, stating that he and Dr. Cook finished their ascent at a point located many kilometers short of the summit. He maintained that the victorious photograph, where Barrill holds the US flag, was taken not on the summit, but on a small peak, far off from the main Peak. Furthermore, he claimed that he, Barrill, wrote his diary from Cook’s dictation. 

The bribery had been too obvious and did not greatly affect American public opinion. The public was on Dr. Cook’s side. Conducted opinion polls in several parts of the USA gave the following results: “550 votes for Cook and 10 for Peary”, “Three to one for Cook” .“Cook discovered North Pole in 1908 - 73,223 votes; Peary discovered North Pole in 1909 – 2,814”. (7) 

Medieval Logic 

The fight against Dr. Cook escalated and Peary’s Arctic Club assigned money for a new expedition to Mt. McKinley with its goal “to unmask” Dr. Cook. They did not manage to approach the summit, but the leaders of the group, painter Belmore Browne and Professor Hershel Parker, who not long ago had been friends of Dr. Cook and had participated in his summer expedition in 1906, claimed that they had located, what they called, a “Fake Peak” on the lower Ruth Glacier where supposedly Cook had made a fraudulent summit photo. 

After making a picture of a person with a flag, standing on the “Fake Peak,” Brown concentrated his attention on the similarity of the photographs, considering it to be the best evidence of Dr. Cook’s forgery. Specialists did not agree with the Browne’s statement. Edwin Balch, a mountaineer, lawyer and the president of the Geographical Society in Philadelphia, referred to Browne’s method, as consisting in “leaving discussion of the ascent itself strictly alone and instead talking of something entirely different as certainly medieval in its logic”. 

But Browne in his argumentation went further. In The Conquest of Mt. McKinley, published in 1913 in the chapter “The End of the Polar Controversy” he came to the conclusion that Dr. Cook had never reached the North Pole. Although this chapter did not contain a word about the ice caps of the Arctic Ocean, but contained only Browne’s personal conviction that if there had been no ascent on McKinley then Cook had also never discovered the North Pole. 

Geographical science refuted the Peary-Browne attacks. Even in 1952 Joseph Fletcher, Colonel U.S. Air Force, Commanding “Ice Island” Station, expressed his opinion about the authenticity of Dr. Cook’s observations: “I find it impossible to believe that Dr. Cook was lying. I believe the account of his journey is an honest and reasonable one. It would have been impossible for him to fabricate his story on the basis of his knowledge of ice conditions and movement 

Balch said that some Cook criticism was ‘medieval in its logic’ But Browne in his argumentation went further. In The Conquest of Mt. McKinley, published in 1913 in the chapter “The End of the Polar Controversy” he came to the conclusion that Dr. Cook had never reached the North Pole. Although this chapter did not contain a word about the ice caps of the Arctic Ocean,but contained only Browne’s personal conviction that if there had been no ascent on McKinley then Cook had also never discovered the North Pole. 

Geographical science refuted the Peary-Browne attacks. Even in 1952 Joseph Fletcher, Colonel U.S.Air Force, Commanding “Ice Island” Station, expressed his opinion about the authenticity of Dr. Cook’s observations: “I find it impossible to believe that Dr. Cook was lying. I believe the account of his journey is an honest and reasonable one. It would have been impossible for him to fabricate his story on the basis of his knowledge of ice conditions and movement in the Arctic basin”. (9) By the seventies of the last century scientists from Russia, Europe and America had come to the firm belief: Dr. Cook had reached the North Pole with the same accuracy, which he himself discusses so much in his book My Attainment of the Pole.

By the 70s of the last century scientists had supported Cook’s claim 

It seems that now, when the truth about the North Pole had triumphed, the great polar explorer. Dr. Frederick Cook could also be believed regarding his ascent of Mt. McKinley. But strangely enough that didn’t happen. 

New enemies of Dr. Cook 

Thousands of mountaineers and tourists in Alaska buy a popular book by Terris Moore Mt. McKinley: The Pioneer Climbs. After we read this book from cover to cover we realized that it narrates not so much about the pioneer explorers but about “Dr. Cook’s case”. One European scientist calculated that the name of Dr. Cook is mentioned 335 times in this book. The author rather reluctantly admits Dr. Cook to the central part of the Arctic Ocean, taking all pains to raise doubts in a reader about the reality of Dr. Cook’s traveling to the “Big Nail” (the name given to the North Pole by Eskimo people). The same is true with Mt. McKinley. Several compulsory curtseys regarding Dr. Cook cannot hide Moore’s firm resolve to convince the reader that Dr. Cook had never been on the summit of Mt. McKinley and that he was a liar.

Washburn to some was ‘owner and patriarch of McKinley’

There is one more, no less popular book The Dishonorable Doctor Cook by Bradford Washburn, a well-known photographer and mountaineer. On the very appealing cover of this book there is an inscription under an attractive photograph of Dr. Frederick Cook, saying: “Debunking the Notorious Mount McKinley Hoax”. 

Almost 100 hundred years later Washburn’s negative attitude to Dr. Cook remains the same as Peary’s. Commander Peary referred to Dr. Cook as “a cowardly dog of an imposter…” Washburn finds his own words for Dr. Cook: “…the amazing brazenness of the man”, “a brilliant charlatan”. 

Apparently this book-album with excellent photographs finds a good market. But that’s not the point. Washburn has his own truth and he tries to defend it with all his might. He is the principal expert on Mt. McKinley, the owner and the patriarch of this mountain. An amusing cartoon was published in the middle of the last century in the USA and in Europe: the contours of mountains coincide with men’s figures. 

By the 70s of the last century scientists had supported Cook’s claim

The canyon, going from the West Fork of the Traleika Glacier to Mt. Karpe. The expedition’s route.

McKinley is identified with Washburn. Two people on the road are perplexedly reading an inscription on the table at the foot of McKinley: “Private Property”.  One of them says to another: “I suppose there’s nothing we can do about it – it is his mountain”. (10)

In fact if somebody proves that Dr. Cook was at the summit of Mt. McKinley the prestige of the owner-patriarch would not just be shaken but actually would be toppled. Thus there are definitely grounds to fight for and against. 

Terris Moore dedicated his book to Washburn, and Washburn, in his turn dedicated his album to the memory of Barrill and Browne. The circuit is closed. 

A view of the Gunsight Peak (in the front) and Mt. Pegasus. The picture was done 
from the shelf between the Peak11 000 feet and the Gunsight Peak.

Besides the books by Moore and Washburn there are many other books on the Alaskan mountaineering book market, the authors of which relate with some hidden pleasure Dr. Cook’s “masterful McKinley fraud:” the story is just too, too paradoxical , and too amusing, and what a quaint decorative addition to the book!

The East Version 

However, there were always people, who were absolutely convinced that Dr. Cook made an ascent to the summit of Mt. McKinley. For example - Walter Gonnason – an experienced mountaineer, a participant of the sixth expedition to McKinley, which reached the summit in 1948. Ted Heckathorn, a journalist, a great expert of McKinley, says: “In 1948 Gonnason found that the summit closely resembled Dr. Cook’s photograph, except for the exposed granite. Immediately after Gonnason’s descent from the mountain, Adolph Murie showed him Dr. Cook’s photograph and told him that it was a fake. Although Gonnason was not familiar with Dr. Cook’s claim at that time, he insisted that the photograph was identical to what he had just seen, except for the snow covering”. (11)

In 1956, 50 years ago, Gonnason specially organized an expedition to McKinley to prove the truth. Now we would need a map to study the route of Dr. Cook together with the reader. At first he sailed by boat from the Cook Inlet (named after the great navigator James Cook) up-stream of the Susitna River, then he followed its right tributaries. After making a base camp Dr. Cook, Barrill and John Dokkin hurried up on foot to the north and in a few kilometers they came to the Ruth Glacier, discovered by Dr. Cook one month earlier and named by him in honor of his daughter. 

In a day Dokkin returned to the Camp and Dr. Cook and Barrill advanced to the Ruth Amphitheater. 

Two glaciers run into the Amphitheater: the North Fork and the North-West Fork of the Ruth Glacier. Dr. Cook definitely followed the North Sleeve (Tributary). Why? The plan of the explorer which he made long ago was to reach the summit of McKinley from the north-east. The Ruth Amphitheater is situated at the south-east with respect to Mt. McKinley. Thus Dr. Cook had to precisely head in a northerly direction. The gigantic mountain Dan Beard, dividing the Forks of the Ruth Glacier, was to the left of the explorers. 

Dr. Cook and Barrill approached the East Ridge, about the existence of which nobody had any idea at that time. Dr. Cook registered it, writing on the map, made by him after the ascent: “Rugged Mountains 6,000 to 12,000 feet high. There is no pass for dogs and horses through this range…” (12)

In autumn 2005 the same route was followed by the first expedition of Dmitry and Matvey Shparo’s Adventure Club and the Vokrug Sveta journal. The team consisted of two experienced mountaineers: Oleg Banar and Viktor Afanasjev. 

The notes in the diary of Oleg Banar in 2005: “Along the eastern slope of Mt. Dan Bearde we moved along the narrow gully, which looks like a wash-tub. I am absolutely sure that Dr. Cook ascended exactly like this. This is the most natural route.” Oleg Banar and Viktor Afanasjev ascended the East Ridge11,000 feet near the Peak. 

When Dr. Cook came to the top of the East Ridge he was only 10 miles from the South Peak (the highest point) of McKinley. He saw a marvelous mountain and could not but think that the East Ridge was leading directly to it. This is the first argument of those people, who consider that Dr. Cook moved to the South Peak of McKinley straight along the East Ridge. This is the “East Version”.

Banar in 2005: “I am sure that Cook in 1906 ascended this route”

Page 52 from Dr. Cook’s Diary.

In his book Dr. Cook gave detailed descriptions about the watershed mountain chain: in front at the north – the Yukon Basin, and behind at the south – the Susitna Basin. According to the account of Dr. Cook he made his way to Mt. McKinley along the watershed range. Today it has became known that the East Ridge is precisely a watershed ridge. This is the second argument in favour of the “East Version.” A quotation from Ted Heckathorn’s article: “Gonnason’s 1956 expedition was exploring the East Ridge area on the Upper Ruth Glacier. Gonnason knew that the East Ridge matched Cook’s description as the divide between the Yukon and Pacific drainage systems.” (13)

If we ascend the East Ridge along the most simple route of Oleg Banar and Viktor Afanasjev and then take course to the west to McKinley, we can see that there are new peaks behind the 11,000 foot Peak:10,980, 11,390, 11,920. Here starts an ascent to the East Buttress, the 14,550 foot height would be left to the right. Further there spreads the Thayer Basin, after passing which, it is possible to assault the South Peak of McKinley over its north-east slope. 

A part of the East Ridge to the west of the 10,980 Peak correctly bore the frightening name Catacombs. This threatening aspect stopped Gonnason. Later one of the members of his team recollected: “It was the mile-long cornice, overhanging toward the Ruth Glacier in the south and the Traleika Glacier in the north, which finally stopped us – as there was no possible belay for hundreds of yards except on far-overhanging snow structures.” (14)

After returning home Gonnason attributed mortally dangerous white drifts to extremely snowy winter of 1955-1956. He supposed that in September 1906 the Ridge could be free of snow.

The next expedition, which tried to make an ascent following Dr. Cook’s route was organized in 1994 by the Frederick A. Cook Society and was headed by Ted Heckathorn. The dangerous cornices again became an insurmountable obstacle stopping the mountaineers. But the leader said that the top mountaineering experts of the team (Vern Tejas and Scott Fischer ) considered this section as passable. 

Ted Heckathorn: “The late Scott Fischer photographed Dr. Cook’s route from the foot of the Ruth Glacier to the Thayer Basin in the air and explored on the ice. During my last visit with Scott shortly before he left for Mt. Everest, he told me, “I stood where Cook stood on the ridge and I matched him. I looked up the same ridge and saw the route to the top. It was do-able”. This was the testimony of one of the greatest mountaineers of our time who had the physical courage to climb Mt. Everest, K-2 and most of the major peaks in the world. He also displayed the moral courage to speak out on this issue, despite the wrath of Dr. Cook’s virulent enemies”. (15)

After the expedition of Ted Heckathorn the East Version became more convincing to the adherents of Dr. Cook. But in the Diary of Dr. Cook on page 52 there are mentioned cornices at the East Ridge. Thus this danger also existed in 1906 and the Catacombs part of the Ridge was as insurmountable for Dr. Cook and Barrill as for the expeditions of Gonnason and Heckathorn. But the main argument which leads us to reject the “East Version” is quite different. Dr. Cook considered as a watershed ridge, not the East Ridge but the Range, situated more to the north, i.e.– the North-East Ridge, the parts of which are named on the present map as the Karstens Ridge (in the west) and the Carpe Ridge (in the east).

When Dr. Cook was at the north side of the East Ridge he wrote: “The main glacier here narrowed and turned sharply to the south-east, sweeping the whole eastern slope of Mt. McKinley”. (16)

This is certainly incorrect. Between the East and the North-East Ridges there is the Traleika Glacier, which is moving not to the “south-east” (according to Dr. Cook) but to the north-east, running into the Muldrow Glacier. 

Ted Heckathorn believes that Dr. Cook wanted to write “south-east” instead of “north-east”, and that is due to the carelessness of the editor of the book, or a “topographic mistake” of the author. But we think that this is major mistake of the explorer, but definitely pardonable.

Scott Fisher in 1994 had the moral courage to speak out on Cook

When we were preparing our expeditions in 2005 and 2006 we were 99 percent sure that the “East Version” was incorrect.

The contribution of Hans Waale 

Sheldon Cook-Dorough narrates about Hans Waale from San-Bernardino, California, who was a geodesist, explorer and a passionate lover of history. Waale had thoroughly studied the entire Cook-Peary Controversy and came to the conclusion that Dr. Cook was the first to reach the North Pole. Then Waale started to study the materials about Mt. McKinley.

He ordered the aerial photographs of the mountain and obtained the most detailed topographic maps. After careful and thorough study of Mt. McKinley and its vicinities, and after reading the book by Dr. Cook, Waale reconstructed the route of the first ascender. 

In 1972 Waale started to correspond with Helene Cook Vetter, a daughter of Dr. Frederick Cook, and she sent him the typed copies of several pages from Dr. Cook’s Diary. Waale became confident that these new materials perfectly verified the route which he had already reconstructed by that time. Several apparent corrections were insignificant. 

Hans Waale converted (transferred) the barometric recordings of Dr. Cook in their equivalent feet above sea level. For this purpose he used the Conversion Scale of Civil Engineers (1925) and later in 1977 he used the NASA Conversion Scale. The new figures differed just slightly from the previous ones. 

On March 11, 1979 Waale published his article “Dr. Cook’s mysterious Mt. McKinley Route” in the Anchorage Times newspaper. The main part of the material consisted of the map with the schematics of Dr. Cook’s route. He also published the hand-written comments, establishing the identity of Dr. Cook’s observations and actually existing geographical objects.

Hans Waale writes: “The purpose of this article is to show where Dr. Cook’s McKinley route actually was after being an unfathomable mystery for over 70 years. 

“Many thought truth ended with Dr. Cook at Glacier Point in accordance with Barrill’s sworn affidavit, while Glacier Point is one of Dr. Cook’s darkest descriptions and here Dr. Cook records his most erroneous elevation. 

“The facts show that Dr. Cook descriptions became more and more detailed and more confirmable as the summit is approached and his elevations are amazingly accurate (this is best revealed in Dr. Cook’s unpublished notes which contain other pertinent data…)”. 

Dr. Cook’s Diary was published only in 1996 in the reprint “To the Top of the Continent,” 1996, pp.272-292. 

To the west of the Ridges Carpe and Karstens there is the Pioneer Ridge, which was rather clumsily named by Waale as “the Western N.E. Ridge”. Carrying on polemics with the authors of the East Version, stated in the previous chapter, Waale exclaimed: “… only the Western N.E. Ridge could fit any of Dr. Cook’s other descriptions! 

The expedition's tent in September 2005.

The map by Dr. Cook does not indicate the Karstens, Carpe and Pioneer Ridges, but one can see a faint watery line in their place. The rivers run to the north from this line. At the south-west this line adheres to the South Peak of McKinley. And on the opposite side (in 35- 40 kilometers) the Muldrow Glacier goes off from it to the north. 

We “bow” to Hans Waale – he was the first to suppose that Dr. Cook did not go along the East Ridge to the west, but continued his route to the north. And certainly Hans Waale’s idea to compare Dr. Cook’s notes with the modern cartographic materials deserves all praise.

Washburn, the “owner” of the mountain, in his book “Dishonorable Dr. Cook” expressed his opinion of Dr. Cook quite predictably – negatively and arrogantly: “The next person to take up the matter of Cook’s alleged route was Hans Waale, who discovered Cook’s writings . . . Gradually, Waale’s interest grew into obsession.” (17)

Washburn considered the ideas of Hans Waale to be an absurd one. He could also not do without dishonesty (or inaccuracy). 

According to Hans Waale’ version Dr. Cook and Barrill crossed the East Ridge from the south to the north a bit to the east of the 11,000 foot Peak. This can be clearly seen on the map, published in the Anchorage Times. (Dr. Cook’s route is plotted on the lists of the American standard large-scale topographical map: 1 cm = 0,4 miles. The contour lines of the heights are quite distinguishable, at least at the place, where the marked route crosses the East Ridge). But Washburn did not see what is sketched on the map and continued to have his own way: the route developed by Hans Waale, crossed not the East Ridge, but the East Buttress, and “a direct ascent of the East Buttress directly from the east was also a formidable obstacle”. (18) This is simply another scare tactic spun out of nothing. 

Did Washburn know that Dr. Cook had conquered Mt. McKinley? 

After Dr. Cook, the first successful photographs of the upper most point of the great mountain were made by Terris Moore and Bradford Washburn in 1942. The last chapter of Dr. Moore’s book deals exactly with this point. The name of the chapter speaks for itself: “. . . a Summit Photograph to Compare with Dr. Cook’s”. Terris Moore wrote in his book: “On our day however, we were more fortunate, enjoyed almost windless conditions on top; and lovely sunshine,whose effect however could scarcely be described as heat! Later, we were able to develop excellent summit photographs. One of these, taken by Washburn, was published in the American Alpine Journal (vol. 5, n1,1943 – the authors). Together with one of my own we reproduce it here, the first to be directly comparable to Dr. Cook’s. The reader may make his own comparisons and draw his own conclusions” (19) (emphasis by the authors). 

Actually in Washburn’s photograph (p.170 of Moore’s book) one can see an inexpressive flat surface, having nothing in common with the rapid take-off (growth) in Dr. Cook’s picture. In the center upwards there are two persons, to the right of them –almost flat snow surface – the incline is less then 10 degrees, to the left – descent is steeper: 20-30 degrees. But it is quite clear that it was possible to make a picture of the summit more effectively, from beneath upwards along the direction of the steep rib. And it is strange that such a skilled photographer as Washburn had not used the opportunity to make a photograph, which would register the final victorious dash with the inscription “The last 100 meters”, or – “The bar was cleared”, or – “On the long-awaited summit”. 

‘astonishing’ how similar are photos by Cook and Washburn

Moore told us: “One of these”. It would be much better if he had frankly said “Two of them”. The second photograph, made exactly as I have described above, as a possible variant, was excellently done and published in the same magazine, which was mentioned by Terris Moore, opposite page 7. But one cannot not see there the landscape, which caused Moore’s photo to be a bit of a loss. This other photograph depicts the front attack, as it was in Dr. Cook’s photograph. The inscription under this photograph could be easily foreseen: “The last 100 yards, snow above 20,000 ft. was packed so hard that crampons made little impression”. 

His words about the tracks are sheer nonsense. They are quite visible. The participants of our second expedition to McKinley testify that on June 2, 2006 the tracks of people on the summit were deep and in high relief. 

Waale reconstructed the route of the first McKinley ascent

Also the tracks on the summit can be seen in the other Washburn’s picture, printed on page 81 in his book- album  “ Mt. McKinley” and on page 202 in the book by Robert Bates The Love of the Mountains is Best

We think that Washburn mentioned the tracks as a precaution, to confuse the trail, so to speak, in order to forestall the words of an unsophisticated reader: “Itis astonishing how similar Dr. Cook’s and Washburn’s photographs are. Even the chains of tracks on them look almost identical.

”It is interesting to know - why Terris Moore, who was feigning objectivity throughout his entire book, did not publish this photograph so that a reader could actually draw his own conclusions? 

Of course, this photograph was also not published in the ‘honest’ book Dishonorable Dr. Cook. But there is another one, which was presented by Moore as his trump-card. And it is worth mentioning that the left side of the photograph was cut off, so that one can not see the mountain side of 20-30 degrees incline; Washburn assures that “the top of the mountain bore no resemblance to Cook’s “summit” photo” (20). 

And it may be Bradford Washburn, this major opponent of Dr. Cook, actually does know that Dr. Cook made the ascent of Mt. McKinley. Maybe he knows and builds various constructions to keep the truth hidden beneath seven seals? For example, he is hiding from the public his photograph of Mt.McKinley, where the final leg of the mountain ascent looks like the slope photographed by Dr. Cook, and his tracks on snow look very similar to the tracks, which can be seen so distinctly in the historical photograph. 

Washburn in his book The Dishonorable Doctor Cook with great pleasure narrates about the expeditions of Gonnason and Heckathorn, giving the maps of the routes of the two expeditions. He said that the hypothetical route along the East Ridge to the summit of McKinley is “The only reasonable route…”for Dr. Cook, which he presents as a gorgeous illustration to which he assigned an entire page. He even seemingly expresses his gratitude to the members of Heckathorn’s team for their work: “The expeditions sponsored by Cook’s descendants and the Frederick A. Cook Society have added a great deal to our knowledge of what took place during Cook’s 1906 climb. While they failed to prove that it was possible for Cook to have reached the summit via the East Ridge and East Buttress, these climbs nonetheless led to concise definition of the Cook route, which allows for a direct comparison between Cook’s descriptions and the actual features of the mountain” (21). 

It is a bit difficult to read nonetheless it is clear what Washburn wants to say. After initially seeming to like and approve of the East Version, Washburn suddenly attacks it with murderous criticism, proving that Dr. Cook was a swindler. 

It is curious to read the lines, written in 1960 by Professor Silvio Zavatti, the Director of the Italian Institute of Polar Geography, about the report by Washburn, published in 1958 in the American Alpine Journal

“Seven pages of Washburn’s report are dedicated to examining mistakes, which he found in comparison to the things written in Dr. Cook’s book and what exists in actuality! 

The seven pages, do not make any sense because of a single reason: Washburn thinks that Dr. Cook made an ascent on McKinley from the East side. But this is a sheer fabrication, as Dr. Cook had never mentioned that he ascended over the East Slope! 

That’s why it is natural that the description of Washburn does not coincide with Dr. Cook’s description, but it is abnormal that Washburn uses such methods….” (22).

While praising the East Version, Washburn at the same time blackens the version of Hans Waale. The expert on McKinley writes: “No one has yet crossed from the East Ridge to Karstens Ridge. The virgin walls between these two ridges are some of the most precipitous and dangerous terrain in North America”, and he continues:” Nor did he (Cook) understand that the direct traverse across McKinley’s fearsome East Face to Karstens Ridge would be so difficult as to continue to defy climbers more than a half-century after his death” (23).

The main concept here is: forget about this possibility forever. But why? In the book by Dr. Cook we can find a lot of records that he was aiming at the North-East Ridge, which he considered to be a watershed. “We had about determined that the limit of our effort would be the top of the north arête...”(24). ”Along the west we had followed the face of the mountain for twenty-five miles” (25). Here Dr. Cook speaks about his movement to the north, when Mt. McKinley was on his left, in the west. In the title of the 11th chapter of Dr. Cook’s book are the following words: “To the North-East Ridge”. We can also recollect the victorious cablegram of the happy mountaineer: “We have reached the summit of Mount McKinley by a new route from the north” (26)

It seems that if we want to get to the truth, it would have been quite natural to study the north variant of Dr. Cook’s and Barrill’s route, since in the book by Dr. Cook the records of his movement to the north follow one after another. Why didn’t Washburn in his rather detailed book cite the route reconstructed by Hans Waale, which he published in an American newspaper? 

Washburn assures us that the descent from the East Ridge to the north to the Traleika Glacier is impossible and provides the argument, which is absolutely unfounded: Fischer and Tejas, the participants of the expedition 1994, came across deep and loose snow and that’s why they did not go down. 

The expert on the Alaska Highlands is well aware about the English expedition of James Mills in 1956. He knows about this expedition if for no other reason than for his being its consultant for one year. (Mills says: “In early March, 1955, I wrote to Washburn and sent him a lengthy questionnaire. So began a correspondence which lasted for twelve months”) (27).At the section between the Karstens and the North-East Ridges the military mountaineers had two times followed the part of Dr. Cook’s route over the Traleika Glacier. At first they ascended to the Tatum Mountain in the North-East Ridge, and then they easily traveled along the Traleika Glacier from the north to the south and came to the Traleka Col. of the East Ridge. After that the Brits descended from the East Ridge to the Traleika Glacier and began their return back to the north to their Base Camp. It’s not hard to believe that Washburn didn’t mention the James Mills expedition on purpose: to lead a reader away from the Hans Waale version. 

There is one more confirmation of the fact that Dr. Cook traveled to the north, and not to the west along the East Ridge.

Ralph Cairns, who in 1912 made an attempt to ascend Mt. McKinley, asked Dr. Cook to write a preface to his article in the Overland Monthly magazine (1913, N 2). Here is what Dr. Cook wrote: “We made the first ascent by the most eastern of the three north ridges in 1906. Hershell Parker, coming later, claimed that the northeast ridge was unclimbable, and that, therefore, our first ascent was impossible. In1912 he started in from the north, reached the upper part of the same ridge upon which our climb was made from the east, and claimed to have reached the top. He has, therefore, disproved his own charge that we did not climb the mountain” (28).

Was there a reason for ignoring the climb of the Mills Expedition?

Terris Moore’s comments: “Nonsense, of course.Though on a first reading it seems there might be a point. The correct fact that Parker and Browne did demonstrate that the final upper mile of Cook’s 1906 claimed “route” is indeed climbable, says nothing one way or the other about the hopelessly difficult, middle twenty miles of Dr. Cook’s 1906 published “route”(29).

Both the team of James Mills and our expedition in 2006 have totally refuted the groundless opinion of Dr. Moore about “the hopelessly difficult middle twenty miles”. 

To the North from the Karstens Ridge 

The Traleika Glacier, which occupies the territory between the East and the North-East Ridges, is forked in its upper part: the Traleika itself and the West Fork of the Traleika Glacier. These two Forks are divided by the Spur of the East Ridge, which looks like a peninsula in the Glacier Sea. 

When Dr. Cook was at the East Ridge, he saw and made a sketch of the two summits at the Spur-Peninsula, which lately became known as the Pegasus Peak. In 1956 the Mills team made an ascent on this mountain. It is obvious that Dr. Cook did not intend to do so, as he had to go around the Spur, or to be more exact, not to go around but just to pass by and straight after it to start an assault of Mt. Carpe. 

From our present point of view Dr. Cook had four tasks: to ascend the East Ridge; to descend from it; to cross the Traleika Glacier; to climb to the summit of Mt. Carpe. The first three tasks had merged for a mountaineer into one, with which he had copied very easily and effortlessly. Maybe this made the explorer draw an erroneous conclusion that there existed one glacial area, which can be named in modern terms as: “Traleika plus Ruth”, and about which (in 1907) Herschel Parker in his article, written from the words of Dr. Frederick Cook, said: “…the party happened to come upon a glacier that sweeps the upper eastern slope of Mt. McKinley and offered an excellent highway to the mountain” (30).

This Glacier, discovered by Dr. Cook, can be also seen on his map. Now let us look at the notes in the Diary of Oleg Banar, the Leader of our Jubilee Expedition, carried out 100 years after the ascent of Dr. Cook: 

Mt. Carpe – the South Peak of Mt. McKinley 

Now let us return to the version of Hans Waale. Here is the first inaccuracy. Waale was sure that Dr. Cook and Barrill traveled along the Gulley, going from the West Fork of the Traleika Glacier to the summit of Mt. Carpe. But at the 9,500 feet altitude the ice is replaced by rocks and there is no way to make a frontal attack.

On the present map one can see that in order to make an ascent to Mt. Carpe along this gully it is necessary to go to the right at 9,000 feet altitude –here the ice bald spots form a steep but acceptable route for traversing. And this was exactly the route, along which Dr. Cook and Barrill passed and approximately at this altitude they started to cut steps in the ice. Hans Waale was mistaken when he straightened the route of our first explorer. 

However, this is a tiny inaccuracy. The second one is much more significant: the author of the hypothesis “sends” Dr. Cook and Barrill from Mt. Carpe to the Pioneer Ridge. But it is impossible to imagine that amountaineer, who had scrambled right up to the peak of Mt. Carpe’s summit, seeing before him a direct route to the main peak, would then decide to descend to the Muldrow Glacier and to start again an ascent to the Pioneer Ridge. To do this, at the very least, a climber must be quite sure that it is much easier to go along the Pioneer Ridge to McKinley, than along the range: Mt. Carpe – Mt. Koven – the Karstens Ridge. It is apparent that Dr. Cook did not have that assuredness. 

We reached the 11.500 ft. crosspiece where Cook built a snow house

Let us remember: Dr. Cook was aiming at the watershed, and here are his words: “Rising from ridge to ridge and from cornice to cornice we finally burst through the gloomy mist onto a bright snow-field upon which fell the parting glow of the sun settling into the great green expanse beyond the Yukon. We were on the divide, the wall between the Yukon and Susitna”(31).

The participants of our expedition after reaching the summit of Mt. McKinley observed the same picture. Thus, from this place the pioneer explorer Dr. Cook got a view of the panorama about which he had been dreaming. What would he need the Pioneer Ridge for, in this case, Dr. Cook: “In less than two hours our dome-shaped Eskimo igloo was completed”(32). 

Under the Carpe Peak Dr. Cook and Barrill saw “the parting glow of the sun”, it took them two hours to build an igloo. It turned out that Dr. Cook and Barrill did not even have enough time to get across to the Pioneer Ridge. Definitely they went to McKinley never ever thinking about the Pioneer Ridge. 

The upper part of the Table of Records established on McKinley 

Oleg Banar, Viktor Afanasjev and Valery Bagovmade an ascent along the route of Dr. Cook both ways and found it absolutely acceptable for a roped party of two, which has ice axes and a rope. The speed of Dr. Cook and Barrill does not give rise to any doubts, as they were lucky with good weather. Our mountaineers, without engaging in competition with Dr. Cook in speed, passed the same route approximately at the same time with the exception of the days, spent on reconnaissance and waiting for good weather. All geographical peculiarities of the relief, observed by the participants of our expedition, absolutely coincide with the descriptions made by Dr. Cook and vise versa: there was nothing contradicting the records of the great explorer. 

Dr. Dmitry Shparo and Oleg Banar at the summit of Mt. McKinley, 
one hundred years after Dr. Frederick Cook reached the same point

Read their accounts of the trip on our Polar Priorities page

The mystery of Dr. Cook’s route to McKinley has been unveiled. The route of the hero explorer to the roof of North America is irreproachably logical and infinitely courageous. 

Many things can change now that Dr. Cook’s victory on McKinley is recognized: Americans can fully honor their great countryman; the descendants of the hero can at last be proud of him with confidence; the corrected popular Table of Records, registered at McKinley, will no longer mislead thousands of those, who want to challenge themselves in the Alaska Mountains. The upper part of the Table of Records at Mt. McKinley now should read: 

The first ascent of the South Peak: Dr. Frederick Cook, September 16. 1906. 

The first ascent to the North Peak: William Taylor, April 3, 1910.

The second ascent of the North Peak: Hudson Stuck, June 7, 1913.

The authors express their gratitude for the support of the expeditions to Mt. McKinley in 2005 and 2006: the Frederick A. Cook Society and the Marmot Mountain Company. 


1. “Mount McKinley” by Frederick Cook, Overland Monthly, vol. LXI, February, 13, n 2, p. 106 (the introduction to the article “Hazards of Climbing Mount McKinley” by Ralph Cairns)
2. The Big Nail, by Theon Wright (New York, The John Day Company, 1970), p.2
3. lbid,p.3
4. My Attainment of the Pole, by Frederick Cook (NewYork, Polar Publishing Company, 1911; Reprint2001), p. 474
5. The Big Nail, op. cit., p.227
6. Ibid, p.227
7. Mt. McKinley. The Pioneer Climbs, by Terris Moore (Seattle, the Mountaineers, 1981), p. 67
8. McKinley and Mountain Climbers Proofs, by EdwinBalch, Philadelphia, 1914), p.75
9. My Attainment of the Pole, op. cit, xuii
10. Saturday Evening Post, Oct. 13, 1956
11. Afterword. “Reopening the Book on Mount McKinley”, by Ted Heckathorn. To the Top of the Continent, by Frederick Cook (New York, Doubleday,Page and Company, 1908), p. 252.
12. To the Top of the Continent, op. cit., 1-5.
13. “Fake Peak II. The East Side of Mt. McKinley, 1956”,by Ted Heckathorn, Polar Priorities, vol. 18, 1998,p. 14
14. The dishonorable Dr. Cook, by Bradford Washburn and Peter Cherici (Seattle, The Mountaineers Books,2001), p. 105
15. To the top of the Continent, Afterword, op. dt., p.262
16. Ibid. p. 204
17. The dishonorable Dr. Cook, op. dt., p. 106
18. Ibid. p. 106
19. Mt. McKinley. The pioneer Climbs, op. dt., p. 166
20. The Dishonorable Dr. Cook, op. dt., p. 123
21. Ibid, p. 10922. La prima scalata del McKinley, by Silvio Zavatti; Institute Geografico Polare, Civitanova Marche, Italy,1970.
23. The Dishonorable Dr. Cook, op. dt., p. 144
24. To the Top of the Continent, op. dt, p. 196
25. Ibid, p. 204
26. Mt. McKinley. The Pioneer Climbs, op. dt., 54
27. Airborne to the Mountains, by James Mills (NewYork, A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc., 1961), p. 20
28. “Mount McKinley”, by Frederick Cook, op. dt., p.106
29. “Mt. McKinley. The Pioneer Climbs, op. dt., p. 106
30. “The Exploration of Mt. McKinley: Is it the “Crest of the Continent”?”, by Herschel Parker, Review of Reviews, January, 1907,p.58
31. To the top of the Continent, op. dt., p. 207
32. Ibid, p. 20733. Ibid, p. 216-217

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Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society