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 Speculation: The Obvious Choice Was The Only Choice

  Tabor states that Wayne Merry was the obvious choice to spearhead the rescue, because he was

 “One of North America’s leading mountain search and rescue experts” (Tabor 2007, p. 68),

 Merry did have mountaineering and search and rescue experience that could have played a much larger role in the rescue effort.   In a recent email, Mr. Merry explained that he was hired in 1959 by Yosemite National Park specifically for mountain rescue experience.  He had done the mountain rescue training for the NPS Training Center while it was in Yosemite, and also trained the staff there.  He was considered one of the best in the National Park Service.  He had first hand familiarity with the Alaska resources since he had recently been involved with the Winter Ascent Rescue effort.  He had corresponded with and met the Wilcox expedition.  Although there was no “Official” climbing ranger at that time, he served in that role. 

But the “Obvious Choice” was not the most practical choice to coordinate the rescue effort.  Unfortunately, Merry was stationed at Wonder Lake – some 90 miles away – at a ranger station with no phone service (like most of the park) and only a radio to communicate with - and no one could have predicted what was about to transpire. 

When headquarters was alerted that Wilcox had reported the summit party was overdue, Hayes, who was Merry’s supervisor, took on the coordinating role.  It was a practical solution since he was stationed at headquarters.  And headquarters had the only phone that could reach outside the park borders.

The National Park Service had exclusive jurisdiction over the park lands, including responsibility for rescue operations within park boundaries.   That did not mean they were required to outfit and maintain an in house search and rescue operation.  Frank Norris the NPS historian explained to me in a recent email;

”[My research showed] nowhere – including Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, McKinley, or elsewhere – did the NPS station personnel on those mountains nor did they have agency personnel actively involved in rescues [in 1967].  Rescues were always outside parties, primarily because the mountaineering community demanded a minimal involvement from the NPS.”

The memo shown in attachment #1 written in March of 67 describes the network in place for mountain rescue responses.  Wayne Merry explained that the NPS’s role at McKinley was, “not to tell the ARG or the RCC what to do…but to facilitate and strategize the overall plan for rescue – to help everyone agree on the efforts common goals.”

In interviews I have heard given about this incident, Hall talks about the park’s limitations ….the most significant of which was that none of the park staff, (including Merry) had actually climbed Mt. McKinley.  He felt strongly that experience on the mountain would be critical in planning for a rescue so high on the mountain.

According to Mr Merry, there is a book called "Death, Daring and Disaster" by Butch Farabee, a retired NPS rescue ranger, that describes some rescues done prior to 1967 by ranger teams.  I have not located the book yet.


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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