The vast majority of climbers departing Talkeetna to attempt to reach the summit of Denali do so via Bradford Washburn’s 1951 route on the West Buttress. Only a handful have ever attempted the imposing Wickersham Wall, and it remains virtually untouched fifty years after a team from the Harvard Mountaineering Club established a route that took them all the way to the summit. Four members of that team, David Roberts, Rick Millikan, John Graham, and Peter Carman, came to Talkeetna last week to present a slideshow detailing their thirty-five day trek.
I had the opportunity to interview the team, and at the top of my list of questions was their own thoughts on why no other team has attempted the route, let alone summited. Rick Millikan believes that the danger of avalanche is a major factor, as is the difficulty of logistics, given that air-drops are no longer permitted on the Peters Glacier. David Roberts believes that the intimidating nature of the Wall itself plays a role.
For Roberts, the climb sparked a thirteen year love affair with the Alaska Range. As John Graham explains, however, even the members of the group that did not continue extensive mountaineering were forever changed by the experience.
For Graham, the expedition led to a life of risk-taking, and he is now the Director of Operations for the Giraffe Heroes Project, which, as he puts it, recognizes and supports those who “stick their necks out” to help others.
I asked the team what advice they would give to the current generation climbers seeking adventure in the Alaska Range. Rick Millikan believes that they should not limit their options.
Some of the team members have not seen each other in twenty-five years, but their powerful shared experience has given them a bond that will never be broken. When asked if the group would consider an anniversary climb, Peter Carman smiles and answers that the odds are, “slim to none.”