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Morton "Woody" Wood

Morton "Woody" Wood was interviewed on May 6, 2000 by Dave Krupa at Woody's home in Seattle, Washington. In this interview, Woody gives a harrowing account of the Thayer Expedition who made the first successful ascent of the South Butrress of Denali in 1954, one that explains why most of the team did little serious climbing after this accident. He recalls this climb not only as a remarkable achievement, but a tragedy due to the death of Elton Thayer. Woody describes the climb, subsequent accident, and the rescue epic in great detail. Woody also discusses dealing with Elton's death, climbing philosophies, and changes with climbing equipment. He also shares how his abiding love of wild places was not diminished, nor was his deep appreciation for the closeness of his climbing partners in the face of daunting circumstances. Woody also talks about his experiences as a teacher and a park ranger, and his love of Alaska and wilderness.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-03

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: May 6, 2000
Narrator(s): Morton "Woody" Wood
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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


1) Personal background and how he fell in love with the mountains in Colorado and Alaska

2) The establishment of Camp Denali and joining the crew that wanted to climb the first route up the South Buttress

3) The beginning of the journey up Denali, conditions, and route

4) Reaching the summit and the journey back down

5) The falls on the expedition where Elton Thayer dies, George Argus dislocates a hip, and Les Viereck and Woody are uninjured

6) The decision to leave George Argus and walk out to get help

7) The rescue of George Argus

8) The recovery of George Argus, and other expeditions on the mountain

9) The expedition's climbing philosophy in comparison to today's philosophy

10) Expeditions that Woody relates to and admires

11) The most beautiful view at the top of the South Buttress, and his previous attempt to climb the mountain

12) Attempting to climb Denali in 1946 with Gordon Herreid, and climbs of the Alaska Alpine Club

13) Buying land and building a cabin in Fairbanks

14) Getting water, electricity, and a pilot's license

15) The enlargement of Denali and the rise of the Park Service in public safety and park protection

16) Woody's perception of the possibility of rescue, and roped vs. unroped climbs

17) Dealing with the death of Elton Thayer and similar situations

18) Having no desire to climb anymore, and the drive of competition being deadly

19) Keeping in contact with his expedition partners, and his role in George Argus' rescue

20) His philosophy on the importance of natural places

21) Special places where the real world exists

22) Returning to Alaska, pursuing new interests, and teaching

23) His experiences at Lakeside School in Seattle, and his current pursuits in life

24) Changes in Denali National Park, and looking back on achievements

25) The changing faces of our national parks

26) Continuing positive education of wilderness places and our future

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: Maine\ 10th Mountain Division\ World War II\ Army -- draft\ Colorado\ Camp Hale\ Italy\ Apennines\ Alps\ mountains -- love\ University of California, Berkeley\ GI Bill\ V12 Program\ veterans\ University of Alaska Fairbanks\ forestry\ National Park Service\ ranger|

Section 2: marriage\ Wood, Ginny\ airplane -- Cessna 170\ Buchanan Field -- flying\ Alaska -- moved\ Katmai National Monument\ McKinley park\ park service\ Camp Eielson\ tent cabins\ Moose Creek bridge\ Kantishna\ Viereck, Les\ Wonder Lake -- ranger\ Rice, Bob\ Camp Denali\ Thayer, Elton\ Argus, George\ McKinley -- South Buttress Route|

Section 3: airdrop -- supplies\ Ruth Glacier\ Giant Amphitheater\ railroad\ Fairbanks, AK\ Curry, AK\ Susitna River\ Chulitna River\ snowshoes\ ice axe\ Ruth Glacier -- Great Gorge\ airdrop -- supplies\ cache\ traverse -- plans\ Muldrow Glacier\ Ruth Glacier -- West Fork\ Mt. Huntington\ avalanche -- danger\ South Buttress\ snow wall -- protection\ steps -- cutting\ Kahiltna Glacier|

Section 4: Thayer Basin\ Muldrow Route\ Karstens Ridge -- route\ Alpine Journal\ Coxcomb\ belaying\ ice axe\ Argus, George\ Viereck, Les\ Thayer, Elton\ climbing -- fall\ mukluks\ climbing boots\ crampons|

Section 5: Muldrow Glacier\ Karstens Ridge -- North Side\ Thayer, Elton -- fall\ belay point\ fall -- 800 ft.\ Argus, George -- dislocated hip\ Thayer, Elton -- death\ serac\ expedition\ climbing team -- closeness\ Muldrow Glacier -- head\ Viereck, Les\ switchbacks|

Section 6: stretcher -- construction\ belaying\ Viereck, Les\ Argus, George\ serac\ Muldrow Glacier\ airplane -- Cessna\ Wood, Ginny\ signal mirror\ stove -- camp\ supplies\ water\ snowshoes\ snow bridges -- condition|

Section 7: Wonder Lake -- ranger station\ McKinley Park Road\ Kantishna\ Busia, Johnny\ Pearson, Grant\ ranger -- chief\ rescue party\ McCall, John\ Milan, Freddy\ Army -- Big Delta\ Army -- airplanes\ Lake Minchumina\ Argus, George\ tent\ evacuation -- helicopter\ Oastler Pass\ Anderson Pass\ Muldrow Glacier\ helicopters -- limitations|

Section 8: Argus, George -- recovery\ Fairbanks, AK\ Scottish folk dancing\ Smirnoff, Mary\ Thayer, Elton\ King Peak\ Coast Range\ Mt. McKinley\ Wilson, Bucky\ Peters Glacier\ West Buttress\ Wickersham Wall|

Section 9: Mt. McKinley -- size\ plane\ climbing -- philosophy\ summiting\ Thayer, Elton\ climbing -- humility\ traverse\ climbing -- fly in\ Kahiltna Glacier\ climbing -- approach\ supplies|

Section 10: attitude -- differences\ nature -- approach\ Kenwood, Gary\ skiing\ Denali National Park -- headquarters\ Muldrow Glacier\ vegetation -- changes\ Wilson, Bucky -- expedition\ steps -- chopping\ South Buttress\ south wind -- prevailing\ Ruth Glacier\ cornice\ glacier -- overhanging\ Kahiltna Basin|

Section 11: cornice -- under\ cornice -- formation\ packs\ South Buttress -- crest\ Cassin Face\ Mount Dan Beard\ Ruth Glacier\ climbers -- age\ Big Delta -- Army\ Herreid, Gordon\ Dogpatch -- community\ Shuman?, George\ altitude sickness\ Browne Tower|

Section 12: balance -- lost\ Herreid, Gordon\ Daub?, Hank\ Mills, Frank\ 10th Mountain Division\ Alaska Alpine Club\ Wilson, Bucky\ University of California, Santa Barbara -- president\ Elks Climb\ King Peak\ Mt. Logan -- challenge|

Section 13: camp -- building\ summer -- end\ land -- purchase\ cabin\ Dogpatch -- community\ Bunnell, Judge\ Herreid, Gordon\ land -- staking\ cabin -- construction\ tent -- wall\ Wood, Ginny\ electricity\ water -- running|

Section 14: water -- hauling\ power house -- university\ hand pump\ Golden Valley Electric\ electricity\ Wood, Ginny -- pilot\ WASP -- Women's Auxiliary Ferry Command\ Kenmore Air Harbor\ Kurtzer's -- Lake Union\ Fairbanks, AK\ pilot license -- commercial\ airplane\ Camp Denali\ Kantishna -- airstrip\ airplane -- floats\ Wonder Lake|

Section 15: Wonder Lake\ Camp Denali -- inholding\ Kantishna -- airstrip\ Denali National Park --headquarters\ National Park Service -- regulations\ equipment -- check\ Rumohr, John -- chief ranger\ mail route -- dog sled\ training\ South Buttress\ Genet, Ray\ guiding -- commercial\ climbers -- inexperienced\ National Park Service\ public safety\ Denali National Park -- protection|

Section 16: rescue -- possibility\ Wood, Ginny\ Viereck, Les\ Argus, George -- hip\ Wickwire, James\ Peters Glacier\ climbing -- roped\ Slovakia -- Tatra Mountains\ Minarek?, Martin\ climbing -- solo\ climbing -- unroped\ Mt. Logan\ Aconcagua\ crevasses|

Section 17: Muldrow Glacier\ Browne Tower\ ridge\ risk -- awareness\ ice -- conditions\ ice axe -- shaft\ belay -- position\ Thayer, Elton -- death\ climbing -- fall\ injury -- thumb\ pack -- aluminum frame\ Viereck, Les\ film -- exposed|

Section 18: climbing\ hike\ music\ skiing -- cross-country\ climbing team -- dynamics\ philosophy -- outdoors\ competition -- lack of\ Mt. Everest -- climbs\ climbing -- commercial\ Fisher\ Hall, Rob|

Section 19: Viereck, Les\ Argus, George\ Canada -- Ottawa\ botanist\ willows -- northern\ Lake Minchumina\ Army -- pilot\ airplane -- reconnaissance \ Muldrow Glacier\ cirque\ McCall, John\ Milan, Freddy\ anthropologist\ physiologist\ Argus, George -- rescue\ Thayer, Elton -- burial\ Thayer, Bernice\ airplane -- Cessna|

Section 20: wilderness -- importance\ survival\ nature -- experiences\ Boy Scouts\ Maine\ Casco Bay, MN\ nature -- importance\ childhood\ fire -- building\ computers -- reality|

Section 21: computers\ television\ reality -- removal\ Alaska Range\ Camp Denali\ rain forest\ hiking\ mountains\ Murie, Margaret -- "Two in the Far North"\ Murie, Olaus\ dog sledding\ Moose, WY\ Murie Center\ conservation -- future\ preservation|

Section 22: Fairbanks, AK\ divorce\ Wood, Ginny\ University of Washington -- graduate work\ University of Alaska\ language -- French\ language -- German\ language -- Russian\ Lakeside School\ Whitman College\ teaching -- foreign languages\ computer\ Gates, Bill\ Allen, Paul\ Microsoft|

Section 23: Tylor, Jim? -- English teacher\ Gates, Bill\ computers\ , Dan -- head master\ Lakeside School\ writing\ music -- folk dance\ woodworking\ Wood, Ginny -- writer\ Hunter, Celia\ Camp Denali

Section 24: age -- perspective\ living -- comforts\ Denali -- changes\ National Park Service\ Stony Creek\ buses -- school\ Stony Summit\ bus -- shuttle system\ Yosemite National Park|

Section 25: Denali -- road\ advertising\ Eielson Visitor Center\ caribou\ Hankins?, Joe\ Chihalis?\ Murie, Abe\ Igloo Cabin\ patrol cabin\ National Parks -- zoo-like\ Yellowstone\ bears -- grizzly\ air taxis\ basecamp -- fly-ins\ helicopters\ Grand Canyon\ Yosemite -- problems\ snowmobiles|

Section 26: values -- protection\ railroad\ highway\ Kantishna, AK\ Healy, AK\ Camp Denali\ cruise ship\ Cole, Wally\ Cole, Jerryne\ values -- shared\ Denali National Park headquarters\ Polychrome Pass\ visitors\ Oreans?, Gordon\ University of Washington\ future -- concerns\ wilderness -- loss of\ nature -- importance|