The south spur of McKin­ley

Vertical (English) - - Special Report -

In 1961, the moun­tain was not yet known as De­nali. Very few new routes had been opened there. And since the peak sends huge ridges plung­ing over the sur­round­ing glaciers, vast po­ten­tial re­mains. At the pin­na­cle of his leg­endary tal­ent, Ric­cardo Cassin opened the per­fect route. Text: Claude Gar­dien.

West But­tress, opened from 4th to 10th July 1951, was to be­come a highly popular clas­sic.Three years later, North-West But­tress­was in turn opened – a route that left no mem­o­rable mark, with the ex­cep­tion of Fred Beckey1, the Alaskan climb­ing legend, as a mem­ber of the group that made the first as­cent. South But­tress, reached via the west branch of Ruth Glacier, en­joyed greater suc­cess.The open­ing of this long mul­ti­p­itch route, from 23rd April to 15th May 1954, was crowned with the first south-north tra­verse of McKin­ley. West Rib, opened from 7th to 19th June 1959, also be­came a much ap­pre­ci­ated route.At this point in the moun­tain’s his­tory, an Ital­ian ex­pe­di­tion headed for Alaska. Leader: Ric­cardo Cassin! He had come to re­peat his Walker feat. He was no more fa­mil­iar with Alaska than he had been with the Gran­des Jo­rasses in 19382, and he was to take the ob­vi­ous mul­ti­p­itch route, a safe and dif­fi­cult op­tion, that was to be­come the great climb­ing clas­sic on the range’s high­est peak. Carlo Mauri was the man be­hind the ad­ven­ture. Un­for­tu­nately he had a ski­ing ac­ci­dent and was un­able to join the ex­pe­di­tion. Cassin con­tacted Brad­ford Wash­burn, di­rec­tor of the Bos­ton Mu­seum of Sci­ence, pi­o­neer of Alaska and a tal­ented pho­tog­ra­pher. He was the man who told Cassin of the south face. He gath­ered to­gether a fine team: Luigi Airoldi, Gigi Alippi, Jack Canali, Ro­mano Perego and An­ni­bale Zuc­chi. The ex­pe­di­tion be­gan on a hol­i­day note: tour of New York, meet­ing with Italo-Americans from New York and An­chor­age, aerial re­con­nais­sance with the pi­lot Don Shel­don (they dropped a hun­dred ki­los of ma­te­rial on the wrong glacier, Kahiltna North­east Fork, to the west of the south but­tress, rather than Kahiltna East Fork), then bad weather, hunt­ing and fish­ing around Tal­keetna: Ric­cardo, a hunt­ing enthusiast, rel­ished in the ex­pe­ri­ence. But the time had come to move on to se­ri­ous mat­ters: the weather had be­come sta­ble on the moun­tain and Shel­don could take to the airs again. The pi­lot flew over the site where they had dropped their ma­te­rial, but could not land: the snow was too soft. On his re­turn, he had to have his plane skids re­paired and there was no point in count­ing on him to move equip­ment dropped in the wrong place. Enough time had been lost and it was on their backs and on im­pro­vised sleighs made from lo­cal snow­shoes that the Ital­ians re­cov­ered their parcels. Good­win, Pe­trecca and Stocco, lo­cal alpin­ists who had joined the ex­pe­di­tion, reached their lim­its over this ar­du­ous ex­er­cise. Ric­cardo tried con­vince them with much diplo­macy that, higher up, they may have trou­ble keep­ing up... Good­win nev­er­the­less made a few in­cur­sions over the lower part of the route.

An im­pass­able di­he­dral

The base camp was es­tab­lished, but not the good weather. At last, on the 6th of July, they be­gan their climb of the cor­ri­dor that was to take them to the but­tress.Two days of climb­ing for a very mod­est pro­gres­sion. They won­dered how they would make their way out of the cor­ri­dor.Then the storm held them back at base camp. When they set off again, on the 9th,Alippi,

Pho­tos All Rights Re­served.

Top right: Ric­cardo Cassin at the base of the south face. He was 52. Op­po­site: Brad­ford and Bar­bara Wash­burn

on their hon­ey­moon at the sum­mit of Mt Bertha (Fair­weather Range) in 1940.

Top left: An­ni­bale Zuc­chi and Jack

Canali, frozen, on the de­scent.

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