50 years ago this week, an intense wind and rain storm blew across interior Alaska, causing floods in Fairbanks and road washouts in Mount McKinley National Park – and engulfing a twelve-man climbing expedition on Denali. Five of the climbers had descended to a lower camp and survived the storm; the other seven men perished high on the mountain*. The causes of their deaths remain a source of controversy, and several books have been written that explore the differing views. Internal conflicts among the climbers (two separate expeditions who were required to join forces by NPS regulations on group size), poor radio communications, and delayed rescue efforts have all been implicated. Virtually all sides agree that the climbers were in a place of extreme exposure as a "storm of the century" besieged the mountain.
The tragedy of the Wilcox-McKinley Expedition led the park to modify climbing protocols, including requiring parties to register in advance and document their mountaineering experience and readiness, to carry two-way radios, and to contact park officials when the climb was over as soon as possible.
To learn more about Denali’s mountaineering program, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/mountaineering.htm.
From the museum collection, DENA 13611, group picture of 11 out of 12 men. From left to right: Howard Snyder, Joe Wilcox, Dennis Luchterhand*, Mark McLaughlin*, Paul Schlichter, Jerry Clark*, Jerry Lewis, Hank Janes*, Anshel Schiff, Steve Taylor*, and Walt Taylor*. (Not Pictured John Russell*).
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