A Critical Look At Forever on the Mountain –

The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters– a Book by James M. Tabor

July 20, 1967, the Day that Wilcox Radioed For Help

      After two days without radio contact from the upper party, Joe Wilcox radios the National Park Service ranger station at Eielson alerting them of his concerns.   He requests an over flight to check on the upper party.  Based on the result he will consider requesting an all out rescue.  Chief Ranger Art Hayes received the message at headquarters and contacted the Alaska Rescue Group (ARG).  The ARG had been contracted by the Wilcox expedition to provide emergency rescue support and had been involved in the screening process that granted the Wilcox expedition “permission” to climb in the park.

ARG’s president, Gary Hansen answers the call.  He immediately gathered supplies, equipment and information and alerts the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Until 10 that night he continued gathering the necessary supplies.  Chief Ranger Hayes also worked late – returning Hansen’s call with additional information at 9 that night. Wilcox wants an over flight to confirm the expedition’s circumstance. 

The ARG contacted Lowell Thomas Jr. – an ARG member to advise them on what type of plane could help facilitate their efforts.  .  His recommendation was not Don Sheldon but a turbo beaver operated by Ward Gay.  Despite repeated efforts he could not be reached.  Undeterred, Hansen gathered supplies and equipment and sent them by train to Talkeetna, the closest, most accessible airport to the park.  

Tabor poked fun at how labor intensive it was to make anything happen in the Alaskan Interior back then, but Gary Hansen had gotten the job done.  Supplies had been delivered to the closest airport to the mountain to be available when weather cleared. 

Hayes was still at headquarters at 9:15 that night calling Hansen on the Park’s single telephone with additional information.  

   Tabor mistakenly states that on that same day Merry had begun...

,”…. drafting plans for an all out rescue operation that would be directed from his WonderLake Ranger Station.” (Tabor 2007, p. 209-210)  

In a recent email, Wayne explained that he was not planning for a separate effort, but an advance base and assumed that a primary base would be set up in Talkeetna or at Headquarters similar to what had been set up for the Winter Ascent Rescue effort Tabor cynically suggests that Hayes lack of readiness to commit to Merry’s plan demonstrates headquarters’ indecision or worse. 

 ….” It’ somebody else’s problem now…is the unspoken message” (Tabor 2007, p. 211)    


There are no scheduled air flights to Talkeetna (there still aren’t). 

.The advance base would require:

accommodating ten men here and twenty five to fifty others in nearby camps, using the Kantishna airstrip twenty eight miles away, acquiring a multiday supply of aviation gasoline for the Turbo Beaver aircraft, getting Handy Talky radios for climbers and base sets for the airstrips and….appointing a good press officer(at headquarters)…  Hayes listens but evinces no readiness to commit to such a plan…….. “.  (Tabor 2007, p. 211)


The REAL Truth:
"The 7 men were hit by an unprecedented storm that prevented anyone from doing any more than was done..."
The "Obvious Choice" of NPS rescue coordinator was not the most "practical choice"...
The Alaska Rescue Group (Now called The Alaska Mountain Rescue Group) was the most experienced resource available..
The Winter Ascent Rescue was not mounted in "a matter of hours" and was undertaken after their storm had abated...
An Air Force C130 or other high altitude observation plane would not have made a difference.
July 20, 1967, the day that Wilcox radioed for help.
The role of Don Sheldon & Bradford Washburn and the authors assertions about their errors and misjudgements.
Tabor's Conclusion is Wrong
Other Mistakes
An Afterword
Acknowlegements and Thanks
Attachment #1, Attachment #2, Attachment #3
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