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Bench Mark Hunting


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Mount McKinley.Just a Hike Up the Mountain (addendum to the series)
This is an addendum to our three-part series by Jeffrey Yates. Yates tells how eight men determinedly climbed Alaska’s Mount McKinley to be the first to survey McKinley’s height with GPS technology and install a permanent benchmark. It was originally published in Lasting Impressions, which is available now at
Setting the Monument
Prior to the climb, there was some discussion on how best to place the monument on the summit of McKinley. From aerial photographs and actual knowledge from prior visits, we knew there was no exposed rock that was safely accessible on the summit in order to permanently mount the survey marker. As with Mount Everest, the highest point of actual rock is not known. It is also not known exactly how deep the ice is over this point—it could be covered by two to 20 feet, or more, of ice and snow. Further complicating the placement of the monument, it is suspected that the ice actually flows down and away from the summit area much like the glaciers lower down on McKinley. It was known going into this project that placing the monument in ice and not in rock would result in a non-permanent placement. Therefore it was decided the monument would be safely placed at or very near the highest point on the continent.
Of concern to the group was what would happen if the summit ice was so hard the rod could not be drilled using a ratchet and “hand-power.” There was no possible way we could have used a power drill, as the tool and batteries would have been too heavy. To test the effectiveness of the ice auger and ratchet hook, prior to the expedition, the entire mechanism was tried on a very hard piece of ice found at a nearby glacier. Not only did the drill bit easily auger into the ice, the process was not overly difficult. The ratchet supplied ample leverage to drill into the hard glacier ice. Following this test, we were confident the actual placement of the rod and monument would be successful.
When we reached the highest point, there was little time to gaze out at the wondrous sight all around and below us as there was much work to do. Everything depended on the actual monument placement, so we first concentrated on getting it properly set. In addition to the cap itself, Berntsen International, Inc. had produced several rods that snapped together. Rather than bringing one long rod, it was decided early on to bring several that could be easily interconnected. Not only would this be easier to carry in a backpack but if we had struck extremely hard ice or possibly the rock summit before the rod was fully set, we did not want the monument “sticking up” out of the snow. Having several individual pieces allowed us to “customize” the depth of the base rod in the ice and snow summit. At the very base of the rods was an ice drill or auger and the extension rods connected to the bit. A ratchet tool was used to hand-drill the bit and rods into the ice. Once the rods had been drilled to a depth of over four feet, the monument was attached and locked into position.
Consequently, the drill bit, extension rods, and monument were quickly and securely set into the ice, and the GPS measurements could begin. Prior to setting the monument, each of the climbers on our expedition placed their signatures on the underside of the cap. Additionally, I also placed two small stones directly underneath the monument which my three-year old son, Tyler had found in our driveway and had given me just before our departure onto the mountain, one for him and one for his soon-to-be-born sister.
Since placing the monument in 1989, climbers more recently have reported that there is no sign of the monument on the summit. The assumption is that the monument sank into the ice, much as a coin will sink when placed on a block of ice, or some unscrupulous adventurer has yanked the monument out of the ice and taken possession of a truly unique souvenir.
Originally published in “Lasting Impressions” by Rhonda Rushing.
Published in Caching Now, November, 2009
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