Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Leslie Viereck

Les Viereck

Originally from Massachusetts, Les Viereck came to Alaska in the early 1950s as a botanist. He earned a PhD in plant ecology from the University of Colorado and served in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage. In addition to a long and productive career as a scientist, Les was a member of the first successful ascent of the South Buttress of Denali in 1954. The climb was both a magnificent mountaineering accomplishment and a tragic reminder of the inherent dangers of climbing. Elton Thayer, perhaps the most experienced climber of the team, was killed in a fall on descent of the mountain. Fellow climber George Argus, who dislocated a hip in the fall, was eventually left with dwindling supplies while Les and fellow team member, Woody Wood, made a dangerous trek down the Muldrow Glacier in search of help. In 1959, Les got a job teaching and doing research at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, but lost his job as the result of his work on the environmental impact study of the potential use of nuclear weapons to build a harbor on Cape Thompson on the northwest coast of Alaska (Project Chariot). In 1963, Les took a job with the U.S. Forest Service at the Institute of Northern Forestry, and in 1972 published a definitive book on the classification of trees and shrubs of Alaska: Alaska Trees and Shrubs. Les' research focus was on the permafrost of Alaska and the succession of the forests of the interior of the state. Les was known for his attention to detail and his record of recurring natural events, such as the yearly migration of birds, the greening of the trees, days of flowering, and the high and low temperatures of the day. In 1993, Les received an honorary degree and emeritus status from the University of Alaska. He retired from the Forest Service in 1999, but continued to do research and mentor young scientists. Les Viereck passed away in 2008. For more about Les Viereck, see his obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner newspaper.

Date of Birth:
Feb 20, 1930
Date of Death:
Aug 31, 2008
Leslie Viereck appears in the following new Jukebox projects: