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Books  >>  Sports

Andy Hall

Denali's Howl

Andy Hall Denali's Howl The Deadliest Climbing Disaster On America's Wild
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Biographical note:

Andy Hall also runs a salmon fishing business. He lives in Chugiak, Alaska.

Excerpt from book:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Andy Hall

PROLOGUE

A STRANGER IN THE

WILDERNESS

 

 

Joe Wilcox may not have been the first man to reach the summit of Denali, but on Saturday afternoon, July 15, 1967, he felt like it. A rare clear day reigned on the mountain outsiders call Mount McKinley. Wilcox and his three companions had savored it for the last few hours as they trudged upward on crusty, wind-carved snow. Atop the continent, Joe’s deep-set eyes swept over the Alaska Range— some of the tallest and most rugged peaks in North America— reduced to so many white waves of rock and ice lapping at the mountain’s base. But along with the grandeur there was an edge of tension. After twenty-seven days on the mountain, Wilcox knew that the window of good weather could close just as quickly as it had opened. The four men on the summit, along with the rest of their twelve-man team waiting for their turn just a couple of thousand feet below, had no time to waste.

Wilcox had been on the mountain for nearly a month, and as he approached the summit the final steps seemed insignificant when compared to the tremendous effort the team had made to get there. The sweeping panorama instilled in him a sense of gratitude. He had worked hard, but that hard work did not guarantee success; he felt lucky.

Two weather systems had been developing as Wilcox and his companions worked their way toward the summit: one to the northeast and one to the southwest. Rainclouds mustered over the Beaufort Sea, a stretch of ice-bound ocean that spans 1,200 unbroken miles between Alaska’s North Slope and the North Pole. In those days the sea was largely devoid of human traffic, save the occasional Eskimo* hunter. The low-pressure system spun to life and grew in intensity as it marched southwest carrying potent moisture-laden winds toward the Alaska Range. At the same time an equally strong high-pressure system developed over the Aleutian Islands, a windswept, treeless archipelago, known by mariners as the Cradle of Storms, southwest of Denali. The development and location of both weather systems at that time of year was unusual.

These massive weather systems, separated by a thousand miles of forest, mountain, tundra, and taiga, were on a collision course, headed straight toward Joe Wilcox.

On the summit at an elevation of 20,320 feet, Wilcox watched wind-whipped cirrus clouds high above him. These clouds marked the margins of the two massive weather systems as they began to brush against each other. In a matter of hours one of the most violent storms ever recorded on the mountain would engulf the peak and leave seven of Joe Wilcox’s twelve-man expedition dead.

Joe stood six foot one inch tall. He was twenty-four years old. I was five. I don’t know why my dad took me along on the drive in his light-green Park Service sedan deep into the park that midsummer night. It might have been because I’d been cooped up in the house by days of rain, or maybe he just wanted the company of his son. Whatever the reason, there I was, wearing my red-topped rubber boots next to Dad on the wide bench seat as we weaved along the endless muddy road deep inside Mount McKinley National Park. Two more light-green park vehicles, with rangers at the wheels, followed behind. With the sun low on the horizon it was light out, but low-hanging clouds obscured Denali and the alpine vistas that flanked the road. The small black spruce and willow trees, stunted by the high altitude and latitude, marched up the hillsides and disappeared into the mist as we passed by. The creek beds

Praise for Denali’s Howl

“In this straightforward, balanced account of the greatest mountaineering disaster in Alaskan history, Andy Hall allows the full tragedy of that episode to emerge. In resisting the facile urge to lay blame, his narrative captures with gripping immediacy the intersection of seemingly small human decisions with one of the most powerful storms ever to descend on Denali. As one who was climbing elsewhere in the Alaska Range at the time, I had long pondered just how the catastrophe came to pass. Thanks to Hall, I understand it better than ever before.”
 —David Roberts, author of The Mountain of My Fear and Alone on the Ice
 
“A haunting, meticulously-researched account of twelve men’s encounter with the awesome fury of nature.”
—Amanda Padoan, author of Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K’s Deadliest Day
 
“Twelve men went up the slopes of North America's highest mountain in the summer of 1967.  Only five made it back.  The ill-fated Wilcox expedition to Denali finds an able chronicler in Andy Hall's gripping account of mountain majesty, mountain gloom, and human doom.”
—Maurice Isserman, co-author of Fallen Giants:  Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes
 
“One of those couldn’t-put-it-down books!  This harrowing story of a more than 40-year-old mountaineering tragedy is raw and immediate as it marches relentlessly towards the final, devastating end.”
—Bernadette McDonald, author of Freedom Climbers
 


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