When the storm finally expired after five days, we shouldered our packs one more time,
gladly left our “Last Gasp” camp, and headed for the East Peak, which is also called “Kennedy Peak.”
Standing on the rounded, 16,286-foot summit, I realized that no one had been here since
Dora Keen and George Handy in 1912. The snow under my boot had gone 65 years without a human footstep!
Understanding our poignant position better, I savored history’s karmic touch.
– Gerry Roach - From Northern Heights - Blackburn 1977
|North America’s Highest Peaks
12. Alaska’s 16,390-foot Mount Blackburn
|Blackburn’s northwest face with the east summit on the left and the main, western summit on the right
Gerry took this photo in June 1977, while flying in to climb Mount Blackburn
Perched on my pack, and squished in the back of Jack Wilson’s tiny Super Cub,
we flew by Blackburn’s north face for an aerial recon of our descent route,
which you can see below the main peak
Then, starting on the far southwest side of the peak, we climbed the southeast ridge,
traversed over both summits and descended the northwest ridge, completing the first traverse of Mount Blackburn
|Blackburn is the highest peak in Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains and also the worthy range’s most dramatic high peak.
Blackburn is the fifth highest peak in the United States and the twelveth highest peak in North America.
I climbed Blackburn in June 1977, making the second ascent of the southeast ridge and the first traverse of the peak.
|The western of Blackburn’s two summits is the mountain’s highpoint, a fact
that was not understood until the 1960s when the then new USGS maps came out.
The first ascent of the west peak, and hence Mount Blackburn, was done on May 30, 1958
by Bruce Gilbert, Dick Wahlstrom, Hans Gmoser, Adolf Bitterlich, and Leon Blumer via the Northwest Ridge.
This intrepid team made the first ascent of Blackburn, but did not even know it at the time!
Blumer’s article in the 1959 American Alpine Journal is titled
“Mount Blackburn - Second Ascent.”
|“Kennedy Peak” is “East Blackburn.” The first ascent of this summit was
in 1912 by Dora Keen and George Handy via the Kennicot Glacier and East Face.
This heady exploit was ahead of its time. Dora Keen, driven by a deep desire for the climb,
solicited miners from the nearby Kennicot Copper Mine, and forged a route up the heavily crevassed
East Face to the East Peak, but did not traverse over to the West Peak. Dora went on to write
a famous article for the Saturday Evening Post titled, “First up Mount Blackburn.”
In 1912, Dora and George thought they were on Blackburn’s highest point, a misconception that
was not understood until the 1960s, when the then new USGS maps came out showing the West Peak to be higher.
With global warming, Dora’s route is not practical today.
|I made the second ascent of Blackburn’s East Peak in 1977 via the Southeast Ridge. We reached the East Peak first,
traversed to the West Peak, and descended the Northwest Ridge to complete the first traverse of Blackburn.
Blackburn’s elusive East Peak had gone 65 years without a human footstep!
|– Gerry Roach