Frederick Albert Cook.

To the top of the continent; discovery, exploration and adventure in sub-arctic Alaska. The first ascent of Mt. McKinley, 1903-1906 online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryFrederick Albert CookTo the top of the continent; discovery, exploration and adventure in sub-arctic Alaska. The first ascent of Mt. McKinley, 1903-1906 → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


?8Si







TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT



To the

Top of the Continent



Discovery, Exploration and Adventure

in Sub-arctic Alaska. The First Ascent

of Mt. McKinley, 1903-1906

By

FREDERICK A. COOK, M. D.

Author of " Through the First Antarctic Night "

Chevalier of the Order of Leopold I. Member of the American, National^

Philadelphia, and Belgian Geographical Societies

President of the Explorers Club



Illustrated from photographs by the author,
a frontispiece in color, drawings, and maps




New York

Doubleday, Page & Company

1908



Copyright, 1904, 1907, by Harper and Brothers

Copyright, 190S, by Fkederick A. Cook
Published, February, 1908



ALL RIGHTS KESERVKD

INCLUDINO THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES

INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVLAN



Cm t



TO THE LITTLE PARTY AT HOME

WHO PATIENTLY AWAITED

OUR RETURN



1970! 8



ACKNOWLEDGMENT

THE AUTHOR AND PUBLISHERS WISH TO THANK MESSRS. HAR-
PER AND BROTHERS FOR PERMISSION TO REPRODUCE THAT
PART OF THE TEXT AND SEVERAL OF THE ILLUSTRATIONS
WHICH ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN "HARPERS MAGAZINE."



INTRODUCTORY

In the development of the project for the con-
quest of the mountain which this volume
narrates, a series of barriers arose which seemed
almost unsurmountable. A great mountain was
rediscovered in an unexplored district and chris-
tened in honour of our late President, William
McKinley. Preliminary investigation proved this
mountain to be the highest peak in North America.
Hidden in the heart of Alaska, far from the sea,
far from all lines of travel, this newly crowned
alpine rival pierced the frosty blue of the Arctic
within reach of the midnight sun. The recog-
nition of the pre-eminence of this peak, together
with its fitting designation, framed a national
mountaineering challenge which we took up fully
realising the strenuous task which it entailed.
The mere effort of getting to the base of the
mountain with sufficient supplies to prolong the
siege required the exploration of thousands of
miles of trackless wilderness. Unlike most other
big mountains this giant uplift rises suddenly
out of a low country and the climb begins over
ice torn by crevasses and weighted down by
sharp stones. Above were 19,000 feet of unknow-
able troubles, wherein the rush of the crumbling,



X TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

tumbling earth with its storms and snows must
be guarded against. Such an expedition involved
most of the difficulties of arctic travel and all
of the hardships of high alpine ascents multi-
plied many times, but with the working incentive
of pioneer adventure, and with the spiritual ex-
hiliration of discovery, all these obstacles, it was
hoped, would eventually be bridged.

Mountaineering as we assume it in this venture
is a department of exploration, and as such it is
worthy of a higher appreciation than that usually
accorded it. Among our British cousins there
has long been an admirable spirit of mountain
adventure which has developed into a well-defined
sport. In America there has recently grown a
similar appreciation of alpine ascents. This is
made clear by the vigorous growth of the Alpine,
the Appalachian, the Mazama, the Sierra, and
other mountain clubs. Mountaineering is too
often put down as a kind of dare-devil sport,
of risky feats on cloud-piercing pinnacles; but
in climbing there is an inspiration expanding
with the increase of vision which is capable of
much development. In the records of high ascents
there is not only the glory of the pioneer spirit
of conquest, but also data for scientific research
as well as fascinating studies in art. When prim-
itive man climbed the nearest hills to get a better
view of the animals he sought, the sport of climbing
began. When he extended this climb to higher
hills to note the lands beyond, then the science



INTRODUCTORY xi

of geography was born, but when he returned and
conveyed to others not only the glory of his
enlarged horizon but the spirit of the outlook then
the climbers' art was established. The succeeding
generations, wandering into new areas and expect-
ing always the end of the world just beyond the
horizon, have climbed mountains that they might
see into the mysterious lands beyond. Seeing no
abrupt termination, men have moved on, have
climbed other mountains, have looked farther over
the globe, until to-day there is the prospect of
wireless telegraph stations reaching from peak to
peak, from pole to pole.

The mountain climber and the arctic explorer in
their exploits run to kindred attainments. The
polar traveller walks over uniform snows, over
moving seas of wind-driven ice; his siege is long
and his main torment is the long winter dark-
ness. The mountaineer reaches heavenward over
the snows of cloudland. His task is shorter but
more strenuous and his worst discomfort is the
task of breathing rarefied air. In the general
routine, however, both suffer a similar train of
hardships, which hardships are followed by a
similar movement of mental awakening, of spiritual
aspirations, and of profound and peculiar philoso-
phy. Thus the stream of a new hope, of dreams
and raptures is started, and this stream seeks a
groove down the path of life for ever after. It
follows that he who ventures into the polar arena
or the cloud battlefield of high mountains will



xii TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

long to return again and again to the scene of his
suffering and inspiration. This return habit or
migratory spirit is a curious study in one of the
first primitive instincts and its most potent factor
is the joy of discovery and exploration. Mount-
aineers and polar explorers are thus members of
a widely separated family, and they should be
brought closer together as brothers in a new
school of pioneer adventure. We have much to
learn of each other.

The exploration of the Alaska Range was not
seriously attempted until the Klondyke stampede
of 1897 indicated the mineral prospects of the
adjoining territory. Gold had earlier been found
in the Cook Inlet district but the interior from
the Inlet to the Yukon was a terra incognita.
With the surprising speed of the new gold rush
various government reconnoissance expeditions
were directed into this area of mystery. At about
the same time the gold diggers pressed up the
Susitna and among them was W. A. Dickey, who
in 1898 sighted a big peak, christened it Mount Mc-
Kinley, and guessed at its altitude with surpris-
ing correctness as 20,000 feet. A sketch of the
mountain with notes was sent to the New York
Sun and the data thus falling into the hands
of the noted geographer Cyrus C. Adams were
placed on record.

A good deal has been said bearing on the wisdom
of placing a modern name over a landmark that
would seem to have been recognised and named



INTRODUCTORY xiii

for ages. We have taken much trouble to clear
this point, but up to the present have been unable
to trace a name which was previously used to
specifically designate this particular peak. The
Russians applied the name Bolshoy, meaning big,
to many high mountains, and this name was given
to the peak in question with its companion peaks
in the central group. Thus Bolshoy was the general
name for the highest section of the Alaska Range.
The Susitna Indians gave the name To-lah-gah
to the same group. Therefore the new name Mt.
McKinley finds a proper setting to a fitting monu-
ment as a token of appreciation to the memory of
one of our greatest statesmen.

The titanic slopes of ice and granite of this most
majestic of American summits rise out of the
low wet wilderness of mid-Alaska, dividing the
game and gold countries which will soon be
trailed by the prospector and the nimrod, dividing
also the tributary waters of the Yukon, the
Kuskokwim, and the Susitna, Alaska's greatest
rivers. From the west the giant cliffs rise suddenly
out of an ancient glacial shelf extending hundreds
of square miles. Here good grass is found in
abundance, and herds of caribou graze along
the edge of the timber line. At the heads of
countless glacial streams the moose nibbles sprigs.
In the endless fields of blueberries the huge grizzly
bear grunts in peace, and along the foothills in
great white zigzags the snowy mountain sheep
climbs to untroubled joys. To the north-east and



xiv TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

south-west the higher slopes are continuous with
a narrow saw- toothed ridge ten thousand feet
high. The approaches from the north and east
are guarded by a wide belt of mountains rising
to altitudes of twelve thousand feet, but from
the south-east there is an unobstructed view.
From the banks of the Susitna River the mountain
stands out a huge succession of cliffs weighted
down with all the snow it can possibly carry.
Many glaciers receive the ceaseless downpour of
avalanches from the misty heights, and these
glaciers extend to amphitheatres where the clouds
deposit their frozen vapours carried from the
warm Japan current.

The task of getting to the base of this mountain
is a prodigious venture which offers very many
difficult obstacles to the transportation of men
and supplies. The prospective conqueror of this
immense uplift must pick his path through forest
and marsh, to one of its many glaciers, and then
begin the climb at 2000 feet or lower. He as-
cends for miles over sharp broken stones and then
up a slope of seracs and arates, around gloomy
cloud-rubbed rocks, up into the most desperate
cold that man has encountered.

We tried not to underestimate the arduous task
or the unavoidable hardships of our assumed
mission. Months were spent in preparation to
use human energy to the best advantage and with
the greatest economy. Our ultimate success was
due mainly to this preliminary preparation. For



INTRODUCTORY xv

the purpose of our enterprise the usual moun-
taineering equipment was quite impossible, for our
limited means of transportation, and likewise the
assistance of alpine guides seemed of doubtful
value because of the prolonged task of difficult
exploration in low countries before the alpine
work was to begin.

The food and fuel supply for a prolonged ascent
over icy slopes will always prove a difficult problem.
In this phase of our work we were greatly helped
by the experience in polar effort. After many
years of experiment I have about concluded
that all the gastronomic needs are best supplied
by pemmican, biscuits, and sugar. A few minor
accessories might be added but this is all that is
absolutely required. For fuel we burned wood
below 3000 feet, kerosene for the preliminary
exploration among the foothills, and alcohol for
the high camps.

The entire equipment for the climbing expedition
differed radically from that usually carried, but the
special things which led to success were a light
Shantung silk tent and a combined robe and
sleeping bag, together weighing but eight pounds.

With this refinement of climbing equipment
we were able to be independent of guides and of
porters, for the necessary weights which we trans-
ported were so reduced that with fifty pounds on
each of our backs we were completely outfitted for
a campaign of two weeks. It is not often that a
more prolonged siege is necessary from a base camp.



xvi TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

For the pioneer work of the low country we were
guided by the experience of the exploring parties
of the U. S. Geological Survey and the needs
of the prospectors. Our food supply here was
flour, bacon, beans, and the various accessories
which the gold diggers have found best. For
transportation we secured pack horses east of
the Cascade Range; semi-wild, hardy animals
that endured the hardships of Alaska very well.
For river transportation we built a special river
boat able to cope with shallow swift streams.
This double system of transportation was of vital
importance to us.

In the run of failures and successes which marked
our conquest, I was nobly supported by two loyal
parties of able assistants. No great task of ex-
ploration can succeed without a strong bond of
helpfulness extending to the leader and to the
family of workers. The unselfish energy expended
by every man in my parties was very commendable.
We did have our minor differences, but in the main
the interest in the success of each expedition was
ever foremost. To these men and to a number
of warm friends who at home have assisted in the
enterprise is due a large measure of praise.

Frederick Albert Cook.

670 BusHwicK Ave.,
Brooklyn, N. Y.



CONTENTS



PAGE



Introductory ..... ix

PART I THE EXPEDITION OF I903

I. With the Breath of the Tropics into the

Arctic ...... I

II. From Volcanic Fires to Frigid Jungle . 12

III. Westward through the Alaska Range into

the Kuskokwim . . . .21

IV. Through the World's Best Big Game

Country . . . . -35

V. Up the Slopes of Mt. McKinley from the

Southwest — The First Defeat . . 48

VI. Against the Western Face of Mt. McKinley

— The Second Defeat . . -57

VII. Northward through the Range and into

the ChuHtna . . . . -71

VIII. Fording, Swimming, and Rafting the

ChuHtna 82

IX. Down the Susitna. Around the Alaska

Range ...... 91

PART II THE EXPEDITION OF 1906

I. With the Prospector into a New Gold

Country ..... 99

II. Preparations for the Cross-country March.

Motor-boating in Cook Inlet . .106

III. Through the Valley of the Yentna.

Climbing Tumbling Waters in a Motor

Boat . . . . . -115

xvii



xviii TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

CHAPTr.a PAGE

1 V . Discoveries About Mt. Dall and the Yentna

Headwaters . . . .127

V. Into the Yentna Canyons . . .135

VI. Northward to Mt. McKinley over New

Gold Diggings . . . .148

VII. Over Gold-strewn Lowlands to Mt. Mc-
Kinley from the South . . .161
VIII. With the Descending Cloud Waters Back

to the Sea. The Party Scatters . 174

IX. Up the Susitna and Chulitna by Motor

Boat 183

X. Discover a Way to Reach the Summit of
Mt. McKinley. Preparations for the
Climb . . . .190

XI. To the Northeast Ridge. In a Snowhouse

at 12,000 Feet .... 203

XII. To the Brink of an Arctic Inferno.

A Night in a Ditch at 14,000 Feet . 212

XIII. Glory and Desolation above the Clouds

from 16,300 to 18,400 Feet . . 221

XIV. To the Top. The World in White and the

Heavens in Black . . . .229

APPENDICES

Appendix A. Sketch of Geology of Mt. McKinley

Region. By Alfred H. Brooks . . -237

Appendix B. Biological Data and Specimens
Collected by Charles Sheldon. Descriptions
by Wilfred H. Osgood . . . .261

Appendix C. The Cook Inlet Aborigines, By

Charles Sheldon. . . . . .269

Appendix D. Railway Routes in Alaska. By

Alfred H. Brooks . . . . -279



ILLUSTRATIONS



Mt. McKinley. 20,390 feet.
America



Highest Mountain in

Frontispiece



Portrait of Frederick A. Cook, M. D.

Along the Alaska Coast Near Sitka

The Party of 1 903

Totem Poles, Sitka

Redoubt Volcano, Cook Inlet

Tyonok .....

Into the Chulitna Canyons .

Guiding a Horse Ashore, Cook Inlet

A Kenai Waif ....

The Susitna Chief

Susitna Mother and Child .

The Imprint of a Hard Life

The Big Brown Bear of the Eastern Slopes

Alaska Range ....

The White Mountain Sheep
Cutting Steps in the Ice
Breaking Camp on the Southwest Ridge
Harvey Glacier .....

Mt. McKinley from the Northwest
Bridgman River ....

The Mt. McKinley Caribou .

Out of the Clouds Down to the Chulitna

Over an Ice Bridge ....

Rafting ......

Motor-boating in the North Country where

and Dawn Run Together
In Cook Inlet Storms ....



of the



Dusk



PAGE

2

3

14

IS
18

19
30
30
31
31
36
37

44

45
82
82
83
83
94
94
95
95
102

103
106



XX TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT



Horses Fording .... . .

Porter Sketching Contours from Above the Clouds

Browne

Raconvenze

Beecher

Parker

Printz

Barrille

Brewing Tea in Fields of Wild Flowers

Sub-arctic Pond Lilies

Fording the Yentna ....

Ready for a Plunge . .

On Lake Bradley ....

Mt. Disston and the Gathering Basins East
Ruth Glacier .....

Miner's Map of Mt. McKinley Region, Alaska, . i $

A Trout Stream

Wyckoff Glacier

Out of Great Blue Caverns and over Precipices, the

Glacial Waters Pour with a Maddening Rush
The Plunge of the Glacial Streams. Face of Hunt

ington Glacier .....

Mt. McKinley Seen from Browne Ridge
Susitna Pete ......

Foot-hills East of Mt. Disston

Top of Bryant Peaks .....

The Face of Huntington Glacier .

Mt. Disston and Mt. McKinley from a Foot-hill

Twenty Miles South ....
Camp Scene on New Gold Diggings
The Eastern Cliffs of Mt. McKinley

The Silk Tent

Edward Barrille with the Camel-hair Section of the

Sleeping Bag as a Poncho
Over the Moraine of Ruth Glacier



ILLUSTRATIONS xxi

First Five of the Twelve New Peaks of Ruth Glacier 192
Mt. Barrille, the Northeast Ridge . . .193

The Middle Northeast Slopes . . . .196

An Amphitheatre . . . . . .197

Sleeping Bag ....... 202

In a Snow-house on the Northeast Ridge . . 204

In the Solitude of the Cloud World . . .205

Into the Breath of Death-dealing Avalanches . 208
On the Brink of an Arctic Inferno . . .209

In the Silent Glory and Snowy Wonder of the Upper

World ....... 226

The Top of Our Continent . . . . .227

Clouds and Cliffs, 13,000 Feet .... 238

Scene of Glaciers, Peaks and Cliffs . . .239

Generalised Section through Alaska Range along

Valley of Cantwell River . . . .247

Generalised Section Alaska Range from Skwentna

River to Kuskokwim River .... 247
Map of Alaska, Showing Navigable Waters and

Railroads ....... 281

Generalised Profiles of Proposed Railway Routes . 286
Map of Alaska, Showing Mt. McKinley and Gold-
producing Areas . . . . . .289

Copper-bearing Areas of Alaska, so far as Known . 290
Map of Alaska, Showing Distribution of Timber . 293
Map of Alaska, Showing the Distribution of the

Coal-bearing Rocks, so far as Known . .296

Geographic Provinces of Northwestern North

America ....... 300

The Increasing Gold Production of Alaska . -303

Map of Alaska, Showing Railway Routes and Known

Occurrences of Economically Important Minerals 306
Topographic Reconnaissance Map, from Controller

Bay to Prince William Sound . . .310



PART I
THE EXPEDITION OF 1903



TO THE TOP OF THE
CONTINENT



CHAPTER I

With the Breath of the Tropics Into the
Arctic

WE HAD planned to go to the top of the conti-
nent, to the simimit of Mt. McKinley.
This is, perhaps, the most inaccessible of all the
great raountains of the world; but it is also the
; centre of one of the most fascinating areas of rug-
i ged wilderness. The huge ice-corniced granite
cHffs rise in successive tiers out of a gold-strewn
j low country, over which wander bear, moose,
caribou, and other big game animals. The middle
slopes are swept by a sea of storm-driven clouds,
and above, far above the usual cloud line, there
is a new world of silent glory and snowy wonder.
Peak upon peak, range upon range, the great uplift
continues to rise into the blackness and mystery
of the arctic heavens. Our route is through pri-
meval forests, across and against rushing glacial



2 TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

streams, over marshes and tundras, on to tumbling
glacial ice, up into the frosty mist of the upper
world. The obstacles are many, but the splendid
prosj^ective achievement of the conquest is in fair
proportion to the magnitude of the task.

Alighting from the luxurious Northwestern
Limited we began our conquest by a jaunt into
the primitive at North Yakima. Here we secured
from the Indians fifteen pack-horses of the kind
which we believed to be best adapted to the rough
life of Alaskan mountaineering. The Yakima
cayuse has a hard struggle for subsistence in
high sterile country, and if properly trained and
of good size he works well and endures the north-
ern hardships with less chances of breaking down
than animals raised in an easier environment.
At Seattle we spent many anxious days in selecting
food and equipment. We found the prices there
reasonable, and the tradesmen admirably prepared
to fit out such ventures as ours.

In due time the expedition with its many needs
was on board the quaint Alaskan coaster, the
steamer Santa Ana. The ropes were cast off at
dawn on the morning of June 9, 1903, as the whis-
tles started a run of noises that must have awak-
ened the whole town. Men were on the docks
cheering for their parting comrades en route to
the new Eldorado of gold and hope ; men on board
were giving a parting shout to their less ambitious
fellows ashore. All of this himian howl was fol-
lowed by a chorus from horses, cattle, pigs, dogs,




FRF.DF.kICK A. COOK. M. D.



'^ ^^^!^-€>^0






■jiis'm^





TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT 3

and chickens on board, giving a taste of wild,
animal excitement in keeping with our mission.
We were soon gliding over the silvery surface of
Puget Sound and, as the dark spirals of smoke
rose from the city through the still balmy air into
cloudless skies, we got a superb glimpse of the
huge forests along the shore-line, and, far beyond,
the magnificent snow-crested peaks of the Coast
Range. Mt. Tacoma with its poetic mountain
solitude, and its sublime vapour drapery of purple
and gold, was slowly sinking into the broad green
expanse. All on board were on deck dreaming
of Alaska and the return a few months hence with
pouches of gold and a wealth of other hopes. Good
weather followed while the landscape improved
with our progress "down north and up along."
The rugged, snowy heights of Vancouver Island,
ever wrapped in storm-clouds, made a striking
contrast to the sunny, quiet waters of the inland
sea which laps the soft green shores of British
Columbia. Thus we followed the warm, vapour-
charged breezes, the breath of the tropics, along
the evergreen shore-line of Alaska with the north-
ward sweep of the Pacific into the icy air of the
Arctic.

A short stop was made at Juneau early in the
morning of the fourth day, and from there delight-
ful weather followed us to Sitka. During the
night we steamed easily among the magnificent
mountains under a sky ever changing from tones
of blue and purple, the prow sending up ripples in



4 TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT

glittering waters which reflected the snowy peaks
of the arctic world in close contrast to the dense
green verdure along tempting shore-lines. The
night effect was nearly that of the higher polar
zones. There was its silvery brightness, its in-
spiring stillness, its elusive grandeur, plus the joys
of dense forests but without frigid discomforts.
Near Sitka we saw two little deer sporting on a
sandy beach apparently unconcerned at the sight
of a big ship with its noise and smoke.

Sitka is the most picturesque and the most orig-
inal of the coast towns of Alaska. Its numerous
historic reminiscences, its church, its old Russian
architecture, and its totem poles, will long make
it a mecca for tourists, but as a business town the
outlook is not cheerful. The fur trade is no longer
profitable, its fisheries are controlled by large can-
neries. The rival mining excitement in other
cities has left Sitka a lonely town interest-
ing for its life of a past decade.

On leaving Sitka most of us went to bed to await
Neptune's call, for here we plunged from the quiet
inland waters into the always unruly waters of
the Gulf of Alaska. The weather proved unex-
pectedly good, and the Santa Ana, though her
decks were crowded with lumber, coal, cattle and
horses and other live stock, rode the big seas with
ease and grace w^hile Captain Schage, ever on the
alert for the comfort of his charges, made life easy
and interesting. Early in the mornine" of the 15 th
the curtain of mist was raised from the Fairweather



TO THE TOP OF THE CONTINENT 5

Range. During the night the needle peaks of
Baranoff Island vied with the easy slopes of
Edgecomb volcano for notice, but now the giant
snowy crests of this unknown cluster of great peaks
compelled our attention. At the sound of the
ship's triangle at eight, we paced the decks and
discussed the principal peaks of the Fairweather
and St. Elias groups. Mt. Fairweather was in all
its glory of glitter and colour. A bunch of pearly
clouds partly screened the sun, allowing silvery
beams of light to dart upon glacial slopes, while
the waters near the ship were strewn with spouting
whales. Mt. Fairweather resembles Mt. McKinley in
is general environment and also in main outline.
We noted three possible routes to its summit
and plotted the mountain for a possible future
exploration.

Mt. St. Elias with its companion peak Mt.
Logan and the great maze of glaciers and lesser


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryFrederick Albert CookTo the top of the continent; discovery, exploration and adventure in sub-arctic Alaska. The first ascent of Mt. McKinley, 1903-1906 → online text (page 1 of 19)