“Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak" by Andy Hall
March 12, 2014
4 of 5 stars (very good)
The Wilcox Expedition on Denali (then called Mount McKinley) in 1967 was the deadliest in the recorded history of the mountain in which seven climbers died mainly due to frostbite and hypothermia. The story of this expedition which had many problems is told in this book by Andy Hall.
Hall grew interested in this particular climb when his father, who was a Mount McKinley National Park employee, was taking calls about a rescue mission for climbers on the mountain. The rescue, along with so many other aspects of this expedition, was fraught with problems. Some of the problems were because of human error, some were due to nature.
The climb was known as the Wilcox expedition because the leader was Joe Wilcox, a 24 year old climber who had little experience in climbing, let along leading a team on a mountain as large as Denali. It should be noted that several members of the party did manage to reach the peak of Denali. However, from the beginning, the men on the expedition were having trouble with getting along as a team, splitting into various factions. Wilcox was not the only inexperienced climber – aside from a few members from Colorado, not many had extensive experience. Hall does a good job of describing this problem and the tension the men were experiencing.
There were also communication problems as the two-way radios were not effective, especially when calling for help when the weather turned. And speaking of the weather, it was considered especially difficult as many factors (wind, temperatures, snow, etc) combined to make it one of the most extreme storms the mountain had. This input from Hall's connections to the peak's weather experts are crucial to understanding this aspect.
The book is balanced in its approach to not only describing the tragedy, which reads as good drama, but also in its assessment of what went wrong on the expedition. Because so many factors played a role in this, Hall presents them all along with opinions from the experts he interviewed and that makes for a complete picture. The reader will be left to decide what he or she believes will be the true reasons for the loss of lives. This is a good book for readers who enjoy reading about mountaineering expeditions.