Mount McKinley or Denali as it is known to the locals, is the tallest mountain in North America. Denali, which means High One, has a summit of 20,237 feet, nearly 9000 less feet than Everest. However, what most people are not aware of is that McKinley is in fact one of the largest mountains in the world, with a staggering base to peak of 18,000 feet, double that of Everest. It’s first ascent was in 1913 by a couple of episcopal priests, a gold digger and a man who would go on to become the first superintendent of Denali National Park. While they succeeded after a few failed attempts, a few would also die trying to climb the mountain the natives call The Great One.
In 1967 a fellow named Joe Wilcox got the idea to put together a team of climbers to ascend Denali. What started out as a team of seven, became a dozen when a five man team from Colorado was forced to join their team at the behest of park officials. Though Wilcox and the Colorado team weren’t too keen on this at first, they eventually mutually agreed to pool their resources and experience to make a bid for the summit together. Because of the late merger, the two teams would disagree on occasion, seeming to keep to themselves most of the time, almost segregating towards each other.
The reason that the Colorado and Wilcox teams came together for the climb is because the rangers of Denali National Park argued that there was a lack of experience in Wilcox’s team alone. This argument would be made for the duration after the disaster, but it wasn’t inexperience that caused seven men to lose their lives, it was a storm that no one had ever seen before or could have predicted. Wilcox, who made it to the top with another original team member and the remaining Colorado men, had already headed down before a storm would pin down the remaining men for seven days, with winds gusting over 100MPH. When a similar team of seven were pinned down by a twelve hour storm in 1997, they compared the two storms. The 1997 team barely survived a short, half day storm with much less wind power. Did that leave the 1967 team any chance of survival? Though only three of the seven bodies were ever found, it was agreed on by a few sources that they would have had no chance for rescue should a plane actually have been able to perform a flyover. It was only by pure chance that such a bad storm should pin them down for so long they couldn’t escape. Such is the weather on Denali, though.
Denali’s Howl is as much of a horror story as it is a nonfiction book about mountaineering. For someone who’s never done anything remotely close to climbing (aside from a ladder), this tale will leave the reader haunted. Though the subject matter is closely related to Into Thin Air, a 1997 account of a disaster on Mt. Everest by journalist Jon Krakauer, Denali’s Howl provides a perspective through third person, with interviews of those related to the incidents and directly involved with it. Hall was alive at the time of the incident and his father was actually the park superintendent of Denali National Park. The subject matter and ending are revealed by the jacket and plot description long before starting, but Hall’s intense writing has an addictive nature to keep the reader going, making them thirst for the satisfaction of knowing what happened to the remaining climbers.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 – Denali’s Howl is a fantastic book about an unfortunate mountaineering incident. Andy Hall has spent years directly involved since his youth, and he’s able to write a riveting tale that has no problem keeping the reader invested in the lives of more than a dozen professional mountain climbers.
Denali’s Howl is slated for release on 6.12.14