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James Wickwire

James "Jim" Wickwire was interviewed on May 9, 2000 by Dave Krupa at Jim's legal offices in downtown Seattle, Washington. In this interview, Jim describes his climbing experiences throughout the world, including the ill-fated trip to Alaska where he lost his climbing partner, Chris Kerrebrock, in a freak crevasse fall on the Peters Glacier. Jim's account is candid and insightful, as are his reflections on what motivates him as a climber. Jim's accounts are a virtual "who's who" of the climbing world, for he has partnered with some of the very best. Jim gives us important observations on a subject with which he has perhaps too much familiarity: death in high places.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-05

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: May 9, 2000
Narrator(s): James Wickwire
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1) Background information and Jim's introduction to climbing in Eastern Washington

2) His family, finishing school, and his first expedition to Denali

3) Attempting the Cassin Ridge route using alpine style tactics

4) Rethinking the route and describing the ascent

5) Summiting, injuries, and close calls

6) Problems associated with altitude

7) Problems he encountered with altitude on K2

8) Mt. McKinley compared to other mountains and the importance of proper hydration

9) Tactics used for climbing at high altitudes and the role of communication devices

10) His attempt to solo the west side of Denali's South Face

11) Turning back on the solo attempt.

12) Watching the first hang gliders take off from the summit of Denali, and his relationship with Chris Kerrebrock

13) He and Chris decide to climb together and begin selecting a route up the Wickersham Wall

14) The intended route, approach, and tactics of the climb

15) The feeling of being pulled into a crevasse

16) A fall that put the two in a crevasse

17) Jim slowly worked his way out

18) Jim wedged himself out and descended on a fixed rope to help Chris Kerrebrock

19) Jim and Chris Kerrebrock parted

20) Jim waited alone for help and finally was overcome by an instinct for self-preservation

21) Jim worked his way up a glacier that was laden with hidden crevasses

22) Doug Geeting finally spotted and picked up Jim

23) Jim met with Chris Kerrebrock's family and shared the experience with them

24) What could have been done to prevent the accident

25) Looking back on what could have been done, and decisions about the future

26) Climbing Everest and confronting climbing tragedies

27) What Jim looks for in a climbing partner, and his thoughts on death

28) The inevitability of death and having faith

29) Driving one's self and climbing K2

30) One of Jim's experiences on K2 where altitude had a significant effect on his judgement

31) Considerations to keep in mind regarding team members and taking personal responsibility

32) An experience climbing Denali when a member of his team showed signs of altitude sickness

33) The changes in regulation on mountains within National Parks

34) Discussing the changes in regulation and views of the associated parties

35) Discussing the issue of over-population on the mountains, waste disposal, and communication devices

36) Reflecting on possibilities of modern technology being used on his climb with Chris Kerrebrock

37) His closure with the mountain

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: Washington\ Columbia Basin\ Grand Coulee\ climbing\ K2 -- The Savage Mountain\ Annapurna\ Mt. Everest -- expedition\ Buhl, Herman\ Nanga Parbat\ Dunham, Fred\ football\ cliffs -- basalt\ rope\ rock climbing\ Recreational Equipment Inc.\ mountain climbing\ Prater brothers -- Gene and Bill\ Mahre, Dave\ Ellensburg, WA\ Yakima, WA\ Little Tahoma\ Mt. Rainer\ Mt. Cashmere|

Section 2: climbing -- instruction\ Prater brothers\ Mahre, Dave\ rock climbing\ routes -- rock\ routes -- ice\ Wickwire, Mary Lou\ Gonzaga University\ Wickwire, James -- children\ education -- law school\ Mt. McKinley\ Seattle, WA\ Cassin Ridge\ Cassin, Riccardo\ Everett, Boyd\ South Face\ French expedition|

Section 3: Cassin Ridge\ technique -- alpine style\ rope -- fixing\ camps\ packs\ West Buttress\ tents\ sleeping bags\ parkas\ pants -- down\ color -- Japanese\ Kahiltna Glacier -- Northeast Fork\ ice -- conditions\ bivouac sacs\ snow caves\ ice screws|

Section 4: West Rib\ basecamp\ crevasses\ weather -- storms\ couloirs\ crest\ gully\ snow caves\ Bertulis, Alex\ summit\ Orient Express\ West Buttress\ gear|

Section 5: summit\ expedition\ Bertulis, Alex\ belaying -- tension\ climb -- down\ Orient Express\ West Buttress\ landing site\ Schaller, Rob\ Kahiltna Glacier -- Northeast Fork\ Patterson, Leif\ snow bridges\ crevasses\ jumaring\ couloir -- Japanese|

Section 6: altitude -- problems\ Stewart, Tom\ cerebral edema\ pulmonary edema\ Schaller, Rob\ Asia\ Patterson, Leif\ Andes Mountains\ Mt. McKinley\ Denali|

Section 7: altitude\ ceiling -- previous\ cerebral edema\ pulmonary edema\ K2\ blood -- viscous\ pulmonary emboli\ pneumonia\ pleurisy\ Cassin Ridge\ tactics -- light weight\ West Rib\ Mt. McKinley\ supplies -- pyramid|

Section 8: National Park Service\ altitude -- high\ weather -- cold\ Mt. McKinley\ Antarctica\ Mt. Vinson\ equator\ atmospheric envelope\ Aconcagua\ oxygen -- absence\ air pressure -- barometric\ pulmonary edema\ liquids -- importance|

Section 9: climbing\ altitude\ Himalayas\ McKinley\ factors -- time\ ascent -- quick\ summit\ communication\ radio -- hand held\ cell phones\ satellites\ Search and Rescue\ communication devices -- role|

Section 10: Kerrebrock, Chris\ Peters Glacier\ South Face\ West Rib\ K2\ publicity\ criticism\ Mt. McKinley\ route -- solo\ Cassin Ridge\ Porter, Charlie\ couloir -- Japanese\ gullies -- ice\ cliffs -- ice\ snow fields\ summit|

Section 11: Ershler, Phil\ basecamp\ West Rib\ solo attempt\ cliffs -- ice\ climbing -- traverse\ snow platform\ bivouac\ mistakes\ packs\ gullies\ bergschrund\ glaciers|

Section 12: basecamp\ hang gliding\ summit\ tent\ climbing -- alpine style\ expedition -- approach\ West Buttress\ altitude -- acclimation\ West Buttress -- traffic problems\ rescues\ Kerrebrock, Chris\ Whittaker, Lou\ Jansport expedition\ Chinese government\ Mt. Everest\ trust|

Section 13: Mt. McKinley\ training -- spring\ Wickersham Wall\ avalanches\ Roberts, David\ Harvard Team\ Canadians\ Washburn, Bradford\ photographs -- route selection\ seracs\ crevasses|

Section 14: basecamp\ Kahiltna Pass\ Peters Glacier\ North Peak\ summit\ South Peak\ Denali Pass\ West Buttress\ bergschrunds\ glaciers\ seracs\ crevasses\ sleds\ Kerrebrock, Chris\ Jeffrey Point|

Section 15: glaciers\ hummocks\ sleds\ moraine -- lateral\ rope\ crevasses\ climbers\ Kahiltna Glacier|

Section 16: Kerrebrock, Chris\ sleds\ crevasses\ snowshoes\ packs\ circulation|

Section 17: Kerrebrock, Chris\ snowshoes\ crampons\ packs\ ice axes\ ice hammers\ panic\ ledges\ crevasses\ shoulder\ patience|

Section 18: crevasses\ ice hammers\ ropes\ pickets\ glaciers\ ropes -- fixed\ ascenders\ slings\ cordura\ packs\ stirrups|

Section 19: Geeting, Doug\ family\ crevasses\ prayer\ Mt. Everest\ summit\ trumpet\ hypothermia|

Section 20: crevasses\ bivouac\ failure\ shock\ singing\ death\ Geeting, Doug\ sleds\ stoves\ pots\ food\ self preservation\ pickets -- aluminum\ sack -- nylon|

Section 21: glaciers\ probing\ ice axes\ crevasses\ knolls\ avalanches\ Wickersham Wall\ wind blast\ packs\ bivouac sac|

Section 22: crevasses -- zone\ Peters Glacier\ Kahiltna Pass\ blizzard\ bivouac sac\ snow\ airplanes\ Geeting, Doug\ glaciers\ packs\ radio\ Jeffrey Point|

Section 23: emotional\ Peters Glacier\ Geeting, Doug\ shoulder -- broken\ family\ Kerrebrock, Chris\ climbers\ body recovery\ Gerhard, Bob\ Dhaulagiri|

Section 24: Kerrebrock, Chris\ crevasses\ packs\ report\ guilt\ accidents -- prevention\ glaciers\ roping\ sled\ accidents|

Section 25: glacier -- experience\ crevasses\ Mt. Rainier\ safety\ negligence\ ropes -- length\ glaciers\ moraine -- lateral\ fall -- resistance\ climbing\ routes -- new\ Mt. Everest\ wife -- Mary Lou|

Section 26: climbing\ Mt. Everest\ mountains\ expeditions\ Mahre, Dave\ Nielson, Larry\ Hoey, Marty\ tragedy\ harness -- waist\ Great Couloir\ Fairweather Range\ Givler, Al\ Jagersky, Dusan\ accidents\ consequences -- deadly|

Section 27: climbing -- partners\ accidents\ trust\ caution\ Roskelley, John\ experience\ conscious\ death\ acceptance|

Section 28: illness\ family\ friends\ mountains\ death\ weather -- storms\ predicaments\ luck\ divine intervention\ responsibility -- balance\ goals\ objection|

Section 29: goals -- orientation\ climber -- natural\ climbing\ limitations -- physical\ K2\ bivouac\ summit\ snow -- depth\ Reichardt, Lou\ camp|

Section 30: fear\ hypothermia\ wind\ chill factor\ shivering\ bivouac sac\ crampons\ sliding\ hypoxic\ platform\ ice axes\ hammer\ altitude -- acclimatize\ judgement\ apprehension\ danger -- sense|

Section 31: altitude -- high\ Mt. Everest\ K2\ Mt. McKinley\ climbing -- team\ Tejas, Vern\ pulmonary and cerebral edema\ summit\ roped\ expedition -- guided\ responsibility\ temperature\ warning signs -- early\ Reichardt, Lou\ oxygen|

Section 32: Archdeacons Tower\ summit\ Bullitt, Stim\ Sumner, Bill\ cerebral edema\ altitude sickness|

Section 33: Mt. Rainier\ permits\ National Park Service\ equipment\ regulation\ registration -- climber\ climbing -- solo|

Section 34: fees\ climbers -- community\ rescues -- cost of\ rescue -- reimbursement\ negligence\ concern -- public\ politicians|

Section 35: American Alpine Club\ rescues -- cost\ climbers\ West Buttress\ Mt. Rainier\ Disappointment Cleaver\ waste -- disposal\ Mt. McKinley\ Cassin Ridge\ Wickersham Wall\ Mt. McKinley -- routes\ cell phones\ communication devices|

Section 36: Kerrebrock, Chris\ cell phones\ satellite phones\ tragedy\ communication -- outcomes\ McKinley -- uniqueness\ climb -- first\ snow slopes\ West Rib\ boulders\ buttresses\ ice\ granite|

Section 37: Mt. McKinley\ climbers -- experience\ routes -- new\ companions\ climbing -- solo\ South Face\ Uemura, Naomi\ Roskelley, John\ rescues\ Koreans\ snow bridges\ crevasses\ emotions\ closure\ mountain -- personality|