The Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley
The book is signed by Art Davidson
1969, 1st edition, 1st printing. 218 pp, 24 b/w photos. Hardcover with dust jacket. SIGNED on the title page by Art Davidson.
The first winter ascent of Mt. McKinley was one of the most difficult North American climbs ever. One of the most exciting stories in the literature.
In January 1967, eight men (four Americans, one Japanese, a New Zealander, one Frenchman and one Swiss) attempted the first winter ascent of Mt McKinley, Alaska’s highest mountain in North America. The summit was conquered, but not without loss of life and considerable suffering. The author, who was one of the three men who made the final climb, tells the story, day by day, of an expedition which was both a triumph and a disaster. On the expedition’s second day, one member was killed in a crevasse.
The other seven decided, nevertheless, to go on. When eventually, after weeks, they had worked their way up to within striking distance of the northern summit, the first signs of frostbite appeared and the author’s altitude sickness forced a temporary retreat.
A first summit attempt failed; on the second, three climbers succeeded but had to descend in darkness. They bivouacked at 18,200 feet and were then trapped for six days, with meager supplies, in a hurricane with winds of 150 mph. Given up for dead by the main party, they survived and made the painful descent on frostbitten feet. Davidson admits that the team was guilty of carelessness and errors.
From the Introduction to the 2nd edition by David Roberts: It took a while, but when Art finally settled in and faced his book, he pulled off a remarkable thing. Here was no simple tale of heroism and valor, like Annapurna, but rather a vexed, uneven story of doubt, failure, whim, courage, tragedy. The team was unbalanced, with the strong members far superior to the others. Perhaps the strongest of all was killed in an absurd accident within the first hours of the expedition. The leader himself seemed to lose heart in mid-stream. Yet everything was redeemed by the magnificent accomplishment of the summit in early March, and then by the even more magnificent survival of Art, Dave Johnston, and Ray Genet.
To my delight, the book Art wrote managed, as few expedition chronicles ever have, to deal directly with the conflicts that divided the party, to pay close attention to the personalities involved, to lay bare their weaknesses without disloyalty to the men (who indeed cooperated splendidly by lending diaries), and to narrate without flinching the details of the ordeal at Denali Pass. The potentially diffuse details of the plot came together in a compulsively readable story.
Minus 148° is one of the few true classics in the literature of mountaineering. It richly deserves a republication that will bring it a whole new generation of readers, hungry young climbers and armchair graybeards alike. It is an honor to salute the book’s reappearance, and a pleasure to wish it well.
December 7, 2021
May 1, 2022, 4:00 PM MDT
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