Mt. McKinley from the east (L - R): South Buttress, Cassin Ridge, South Summit, North Summit, Pioneer Ridge (skyline) and Karstens Ridge

Butch Wade and Kent Hudson at Windy Corner, West Buttress

Two women and ten men climbed the West Buttress as the Mt. McKinley Hang Glider Expedition in 1976. We saved the lives of seven climbers, refused to rescue others, got bombed by the Air Force and launched four hang gliders from the summit. One crashed. Three of my climbing companions are dead.
Sex. Drugs. Rock 'n' roll. Life and death at high altitude.
I'll retell and expand the story that appeared in magazines around the world and update it from unpublished diary entries as I have time. Mariah pioneered coverage of adventure sports. It's better known these days as Outside.

The air is so cold it burns. At 120 beats per minute, my heart is pounding so hard I'm afraid it will explode. My head is pounding
and the sound of the blood rushing to my brain is deafening. There
isn't enough air, no matter how deeply I inhale. Or gasp. Each step demands a conscious effort. This isn't climbing. This isn't walking. This is falling uphill. Before I can make a step I must will my thigh muscles to contract, the knees to bend, the heavy, cramponed Lowa double boots to lift. And lurch forward again.

Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Up. Always up. The snow screams like
a wounded animal every time the pick of the ice axe stabs and levers the frozen skin of the mountain. And still the endless burning white rises to meet an impossibly blue sky.

Suddenly there is no more up. Everything is down. This is the summit of Mt. McKinley. The top of the continent. The top of my world.

The easy part is over. Now we can go to work . . .

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Copyright © 1976, 2001 Dennis Cowals   All rights reserved.