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

Tabor's Other Mistakes

There are some other miscellaneous mistakes that I believe bear mentioning.    Tabor continues to insist his book is exhaustively researched…

  • The Park was ON the Mountain:

Tabor stated that Mt. McKinley (Denali) National Park was “On” one of the world’s most dangerous and covered mountains.  This is incorrect.  Mt. McKinley National Park was not established because the mountaineering opportunities which abound in the region but to preserve the region’s wildlife and scenic resources.   The mountain was only partially inside the boundaries of the park in 1967.   When the park was created in 1917,

“…… nothing about the mountain itself was noted among any of the principal reasons delineated for the park’s establishment. (Norris, Crown Jewel of the North: An Administrative History of Denali National Park and Preserve, Volume I 2006).

The 60’s had seen a steady increase in climbing activities.  In 1960 20 climbers had reached the summit of McKinley.  In 1967 that number had increased to 60.  The increase was a harbinger of things to come, it was a small number compared to the 40,000 visitors the park hosted that summer.

  • The park leadership was not trained properly for their jobs…

 “In fact, without climbing experience, they [Hall and Hayes] should never have had the jobs they had. “ (Tabor 2007, p. 68)

“Despite being top man overseeing park service operations on one of the world’s most dangerous and coveted mountains, Hall will later admit ….I was not too competent in mountain climbing…” (Tabor 2007, p. 68)

“The National Park Service put them both in place and gave them responsibility for administering Mount McKinley National Park, home to titanic mountains and infernal weather and an iconic, lethal peak that was , and is, the object of many climbers’ lifelong dreams.  The NPS did not give them training in glacier travel, ice ax and crampon use, altitude, crevasses, avalanches, and search and rescue” (Tabor 2007, p. 311-12)

Hall served as the Senior Superintendent for the State of Alaska in addition to his other responsibilities as superintendent of Mt. McKinley National Park and the huge and remote Katmai National Monument.  In addition, he oversaw operations in the newly established Anchorage Field Office.  

 The field office focused on expansion of NPS managed land in the state.  Tabor mistakenly assumes this is a regional office for the National Park Service.  This was not the case. 
Tabor was wrong about what the role of the superintendents role required.  Merry countered Tabor’s position.  He recently wrote:

“Your dad was very well qualified for his job.  Adminstrators have to depend upon their competent staff.”…. “ (Merry 2008)

  • The Park’s Self Serving Motivations: 

Tabor suggests here that, Hall’s first concern was for his “career”.  He writes;

Hall, probably still smarting from having been publically flogged for the Winter Expedition rescue’s huge expense and no doubt leery of triggering an even bigger response so soon after, wants to wait for the result of Sheldon’s flight. (Tabor 2007, p. 223)

“[Any rescue effort costs]….. Would surely be splashed across the nation’s newspapers… (Tabor 2007, p. 210)

The majority of the expenses for the Winter Expedition were related to the Air Force response not the park services.  Therefore, related expenses would have been absorbed by the Air Force NOT the National Park Service.    

In addition, the winter expedition rescue occurred before George Hall took over as Superintendent of the park.  He officially took on the superintendent position on March 14th 1967.  We arrived in April.


  • Wayne Merry was not appreciated by his superiors

Wayne is liked by everyone who meets him, with the exception of NPS bosses, who may find him a bit too, well – assertive. (Tabor 2007, p. 67)

My Dad liked and respected Mr. Merry, according to my Mom and trusted his judgment.  That was why he was promoted to Chief Ranger the next year. 

  • Park Rangers had boring jobs…

Tabor at one point describes the job of the park service ranger as,

 “deal[ing] with tourist’s complaints about bug bites and smelly outhouses”….  (Tabor 2007) 

But, it was much more than that, the summer of 1967, the park hosted 40,000 visitors.     The park’s staff of approximately 20 people, served as naturalists, educators, land managers, dog kennel managers, engineers, and administrative support. 

  • George Hall was randomly assigned to his job

They were NPS career men and like military personnel, went where they were sent.  It was part of the job description if you wanted to have a future in government. (Tabor 2007, p. 68)

After WWII, Dad went to college on the GI bill.  In the army air force, he had been trained as a pilot and a radio operator.  Restless, he took a chance on Alaska where he landed a job in Sitka with the NPS in 1957. 

In 1963 he was offered a promotion to work in the National Region as Deputy Director of National Monuments.  .   At the same time, he would be one of 7 staff selected to participate in a 2 year management training program.  When that was finished, he specifically asked to be considered for a post in Alaska. 

My parents loved Alaska.  Not long after my parents had left in 1963, they promised each other they would find a way to return….and once here, they would not leave.  They did just that.  When Dad received notice of a transfer to California in 1969, he instead elected to leave the NPS and find other work to stay in Alaska.


  • Misinterpreting correspondence:

Tabor reviewed some of the correspondence after the tragedy between Hall and the Regional office and concluded that it demonstrated  an effort to hide information from the public.  Part of the superintendent’s job was risk management and in the aftermath of such a tragedy it was his job to communicate related information and concerns to the Park Service. 

One such piece of correspondence was an assessment of the ARG capabilities to meet the same significant crisis again.  NO ONE was “prepared” to meet a crisis of a high altitude rescue of such significant proportion in the midst of a class 6 wind storm...  

Unlike today, in 1967 the Park did not have high altitude climbing rangers on patrol, on the mountain.   

What Hall was confident in, was that the ARG had learned from the experience as had the park staff….and it certainly has.  The ARG has evolved into the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. It is a premiere volunteer search and rescue operation and continues to save lives throughout Alaska. 

FM p. 68


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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