A few years ago I rediscovered an unpublished manuscript my grandfather wrote in 1955 after participating in the rescue of an injured mountaineer on Denali, North America’s highest peak (then Mount McKinley). I’d seen this manuscript before, when my father was alive, but it took on greater significance now, a tenuous connection to my father and my grandfather, like a rope tied across a glacial crevasse allowing me access to places otherwise impossible to reach.
I spent months reading and researching, digging through and organizing other papers my father had stored away. In January 2015 I had a thought to look up the injured climber, to see if he was still alive and perhaps call to talk to him about my grandfather. A scientific paper led me to the man, and the conversations that followed led me on a journey to Canada and Seattle, to meet this climber and then another survivor of that incident (and their equally interesting wives).
What I discovered is that this is a story much broader than my grandfather’s perspective, and I have been collecting pieces to complete a whole picture. This is the story of four young men quietly traversing a mountain against great odds—something that has not been done since. It is the story of a terrible accident on the way down, which led to the loss of one life and a harrowing period for the three survivors. It is the story of a joint civilian-military rescue that lasted five days past the hoped for one-day up-and-down return. It is the end of a climbing era, when climbers made their own rations and tents and gear, when steps were cut into ice and snow not with crampons, but with a hard labor and an ice pick. It is a story not of achievement or the conquering of a mountain, but of a deep reverence for nature and the connection and compassion—and luck—of men.
Part of it is my grandfather’s story. Part of it belongs to those incredible men. And now, a newer small part is mine. Check back later in the year to see how this project develops, and where it takes me.