Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of the Most Tragic, Mysterious, and Controversial Disasters in Mountaineering History.
While more than half the expedition remained stranded and dying at 20,000 feet, trapped by one of the worst storms in mountaineering history, ten days passed with no rescue attempt. Seven men perished under mysterious circumstances.
Reckoning by lives lost, the tragedy was history’s third-worst mountaineering disaster when it occurred, and it marked the end of a golden age of pioneer climbing on Mt. McKinley. Yet, for reasons that have remained cloudy, there was no proper official investigation of the catastrophe.
Forever on the Mountain begins as a classic tale of men against nature gambling, and losing, on one of the world’s most coveted—and deadliest—peaks. But the story takes an unexpected twist, turning from one of disaster to one of discovery.
Elements of incompetence, finger-pointing, and cover-up pervaded the tragedy and its aftermath. The victims’ bodies were never recovered; no cameras or diaries shed light on the climbers’ final days. Verdicts hastily pronounced by agenda-driven critics effectively ended investigation of the tragedy before it began. Complicating matters further, expedition leader Joe Wilcox and expedition member Howard Snyder, alienated on the mountain, offered up wildly varying explanations of the tragedy that remained unresolved until this book.
James M. Tabor draws on previously untapped sources, including personal interviews with survivors and others involved with the expedition, unpublished correspondence and diaries, sensitive government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and consultations with experts in disciplines such as forensics, high altitude research, psychology and psychiatry, systems analysis, meteorology, and more.
Drawing on this evidence and his own Alaskan climbing experience, Tabor follows the climbers’ progress up McKinley’s Muldrow Glacier Route as treacherous crevasses, altitude sickness, avalanche danger, horrific weather, exhaustion, and psychological stress threaten the team’s already fragile cohesion. But he also reveals important stories surrounding the expedition tale itself, without which the tragedy cannot be fully understood: a stillborn rescue operation conceived by a lone park ranger; bureaucratic bungling and foot-dragging; a heroic rescue attempt by another civilian team on the mountain, and the expedition’s rancorous and politically charged aftermath. Tabor has pieced together, for the first time, the complete story of one of the most tragic, mysterious, and controversial disasters in the history of mountaineering.
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