Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall – Book Review

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Book Review: Denali’s Howl – The Deadliest Climbing Disaster On America’s Wildest Peak by Andy Hall

In the summer of 1967, a group of young and determined mountaineers headed to Alaska to climb North America’s highest peak. Only five men from the 12 man expedition made it home alive. The other seven froze to death amidst a storm of unimaginable proportions  near the summit of Denali. It is one of the most controversial and one of the worst tragedies on the slopes of Denali ever. This is their story.

Denali's Howl by Andy Hall
Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall

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Andy Hall authored this historically accurate and well written book. As the son of the Mount McKinley National Park’s superintendent at the time, Hall has a personal connection to both Denali and the incident. Through his personal knowledge of the event and the mountain, survivor’s accounts, hand written letters, journal entries, lost documents, and radio recordings, Hall is able to help shine some light on this unfortunate tragedy.

Denali’s Howl does an excellent job of exploring the group dynamics of the expedition and paints a picture of the individual characters, their adventure to the highest peak in North America, their untimely tragedy, the subsequent rescue attempts, and the impact of the incident. It’s a fascinating read about a real life climbing disaster.

The expedition, led by Joe Wilcox, met their demise near the summit of Denali. They had decided to summit in two groups. The first group successful reached the South Peak of Denali. When the second group stood on the summit a few days later, they were swallowed up by the perfect storm. An unprecedented super blizzard struck the mountain leaving the climbers in whiteout conditions, frigid temperatures, and hurricane force winds. Some gusts are estimated to have hit over 300 mph on the ridges and passes. The storm raged for nearly a week leaving the men stranded without shelter or supplies. There was nothing that anyone could do to save them.

Rescue operations were organized. Another climbing expedition was the first on the scene while en route to the summit. They found one body frozen and decomposing while holding a tent pole. Nearer the summit they found two more frozen bodies in a seated position. Other clues were unveiled over multiple rescue attempts. Of the 7 men lost on Denali, only three were ever found. The other four are missing to this day in a “place where the snow never melts (200).

A disaster of this magnitude always raises questions and causes controversy. The incident almost permanently ended all climbing on Denali. It increased awareness of the dangers of the mountains and the need for more streamlined rescue procedures. It also was the catalyst for formalizing a climbing ranger who would manage and communicate with all expedition parties. It’s an event that every mountaineer can learn from.

Hall’s carefully researched book explores this incident in depth. It’s not the first book available on the 1967 Denali incident, there are others too. Denali’s Howl is an engaging read. If you’re a fan of the mountaineering genre, this book is a must read.

Denali’s Howl was published in June 2014.