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 Misleading Speculations: regarding Don Sheldon and Bradford Washburn

Steve Cartwright wrote in a 2002 article about Sheldon,

“Don maintained an extraordinary understanding of aerodynamics—and this combined with a complete understanding of meteorology and the topography of Mt McKinley and the surrounding areas—made for a unique individual among many unique individuals….Just when everyone said no one could get through, that's when Don Sheldon would appear in his Piper Super Cub.” (Cartright 2002)

Tabor has a habit of filling in the holes in this story with his own imaginings.   He question’s Sheldon’s actions and since Sheldon is n’t here to answer, Tabor assumes the worst. 

…there is no doubt that his [Sheldon’s] actions throughout the July 1967 tragedy are hard to understand or explain….. (Tabor 2007)

Sheldon faced the same horrific weather issues everyone else was dealing with – and this affected his other clients as well as any opportunity he might have had to fly to high altitude to search for the missing climbers.  He also had to consider his own safety. 

In an earlier draft of this summary, I credited Sheldon with having had a significant role in initiating the Winter Ascent Rescue…  I need to clarify my statement.  Don Sheldon had been the air support for the Winter Ascent Expedition.  He had kept in contact via radio and kept an eye out when flying in the area.  When information was being gathered to determine whether a rescue was needed, Sheldon had exclusive information to input…

If anything, his successful efforts in other rescues should have given  any decision he made a significant measure of creditability.  

Tabor suggests that there were times when Sheldon could have flown up to search for the missing climbers and instead was delivering supplies to other expeditions on other parts of the mountain.  

Mt. McKinley  generates its own weather systems.  Weather may have been acceptable for flying to one area while still questionable in others.  High altitude reconnaissance and a routine supply drop would be like comparing apples to oranges.  Its’ important to remember, that a rescue at this altitude was unprecedented.

Sheldon had a reputation for being an excellent glacier pilot….but that certainly doesn’t correlate with being perfect.  He dropped supplies to the MCA group in the pillow cases they were delivered in – not realizing inside the cases the supplies were packed and flagged….  He was not a climber and was never on the receiving end of the drops.  In spite of all that, Tabor sites NO tangible evidence that Sheldon acted in a delinquent fashion during this time.  In the end – Sheldon’s reputation for bravery and determination was well deserved. – Tabor’s criticisms of him are not.


Brad Washburn had put in his time on Mt. McKinley and was arguably the most knowledgeable mountaineer in the world about the mountain.  Without going into detail – Wilcox and Washburn had a difference in the early planning stages of the expedition.  Wilcox unintentionally raised Washburn’s ire and word in the climbing community moved quickly.  It added a cruel irony to the story.  But Tabor presented no evidence  that Washburn  delayed the efforts that were made to mount a rescue. 

Links to more information about Don Sheldon:

Links to more information about Bradford Washburn: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/01/11/bradford_washburn_renowned_explorer_dies_at_96/


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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