Story last updated at 8/15/2012 - 1:38 pm
Last week we learned that a United States survey team used the wild Whiting River to access the peaks that now mark the International Boundary between Alaska and Canada.
Upriver, about 2.5 miles from the boundary, a base camp was set up. From here, parties of surveyors and crews carried equipment set out to establish reference point triangulation stations. Using these bench marks for elevations, surveyors could determine boundary peaks.
The first climb was to the mountain top above camp. Galvanized signals were placed. When the team returned days later, they discovered that several of the erected signals had been blown down by the wind. These signals looked like stove pipe. This type of signal, being easy to pack up mountains, was the predominant type used by all boundary survey parties.
At this point a fly camp with the barest necessities was established. Due to frequent rain, snow and fog, many uncomfortable days and nights were passed in these makeshift camps. With downed signals and a shortage of food, the party climbed down to the main camp to re-provision, and then hiked back up the next day.
When this station was completed, they returned to camp but were soon climbing again: this time to a peak on the south side of the river on July 3 where they occupied Station Tom at 3,380 feet. This is one mile southeast of the river, and northeast from Port Snettisham. It was marked with a galvanized iron stove-pipe signal set in a 4-foot cairn. If anyone wants to climb to any of the signals mentioned in this article, they should still exist.
A few days later J. D. Craig, "engineer in charge," and his party climbed a 5,000-foot mountain, only to be drenched with a cold driving rain when they reached the top. "Back for food," reported the U.S. representative to the International Boundary Commission, G. Charles Baldwin, whose report I found at the National Archives.
By now the men must have been in great shape but yearning for a dry day. Starting Aug. 19, the sun came out and in those five days the men climbed Station Friday, two miles northeast of the Whiting River, 15.4 miles upriver near Crescent Lake. The station marker was placed at 5,220 feet on the middle summit of a long rocky ridge.
This is the first use of the lake's name, and now it is official and on maps. The lake is fed by a number of glacial streams. Craig named the main outlet "Crescent Creek."
On the 20th the men returned to Camp Comfort after climbing and occupying Genesis, which is one mile southeast of the river. The marker is on a ridge that extends northeast from a snow-covered peak on the west side of a large creek at elevation 3,640 feet.
On the 21st they climbed Peak 79 for the first time and were able to complete the survey observations needed. This is a conical peak about two miles south of the Whiting River, six miles east of its confluence with Crescent Lake stream. This is the one of the official boundary peaks. The other names mentioned are survey stations.
Two days later the team climbed the highest peak of the season called Snow Tower. The last few hundred feet of this climb was exceedingly difficult because of the large amount of new snow. This peak is north from Boundary Peak 82, on the north bank of Whiting River, four miles about the mouth of the Crescent Creek, on a rocky summit at elevation 6,330. On Sept. 11 the party climbed again Boundary Peak 79 (5,821 feet) after a foot of new snow had fallen. A previously placed signal had fallen on its side and was buried in the snow. It was re-erected.
On Sept. 20, they climbed Cook, (5,400 feet) and occupied a survey station there. This is two miles southeast from the Whiting opposite the mouth of Crescent Creek. On Oct. 2, a nice day, the team paddled six miles on the river, then climbed and surveyed from Station Wilson that is about 4,000 feet in elevation. It is two miles north of the Whiting River.
Late in September the party moved to the mouth of the river to connect triangulation with stations prepared by Craig at the start of the season. A base line was measured across the river flats. A line across the valley was temporarily marked by clearing a five-foot wide transit line and by installing wooden posts on each side of the river. With work completed, the party returned to Juneau on Oct. 12. The men had been out for 143 days. A shower, clean dry clothes, and a soft bed must have felt very good.
During 1906, the team's work established the boundary north from Peak 79 to Peak 85. The latter was established by the Taku River survey team.
A topographic map or the Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer (page 39) shows the boundary peaks and the Whiting River. Survey stations Snow Tower, Genesis. Cook, Wilson, and Friday are shown, as well as Boundary Peaks 83 through 79, all of which were surveyed by the Craig party.
No surveyors returned to this area of the International Boundary as far as I can find. Craig went on to be the Canadian Representative on the International Boundary Commission in 1907 in the Bradfield Canal and the Stikine in 1908.
Today if you fly over or sail by Port Snettisham, look up at the Coastal Range and its peaks, as well as the mountains around the bay, remember those who struggled to the highest summits with none of the sophisticated climbing equipment used today.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.