When Claire first asked if we felt Tabor attributed blame to any specific individuals, I responded that he instead pieced together a variety of contributing factors that together resulted in the 1967 McKinley disaster. After finishing the book, however, I now believe that Tabor not-so-subtly complied a list of supposed villains in the McKinley drama.
Villain 1: Brad Washburn
From the start, Tabor presented Brad as a self-righteous, abrasive asshole. His early correspondence with Wilcox (the perceived protagonist of the story) revealed not only his lack of support for the Wilcox expedition, but apparently his desire that the group falls “simultaneously into the same crevasse” (40). After disaster struck on the mountain, Washburn’s power and influence in the mountaineering world, Tabor implies, jeopardized rescue attempts and ultimately led to a deceitful effort on the part of…
Villain 2: Don Sheldon
A member of the Alaska rescue group, Sheldon was “hired” as a search and rescue pilot to survey the situation on the mountain and drop supplies to the stranded group and the MCA rescue team (the only apparent genuine effort made to aid Jerry Clark and his stranded teammates). Undeniably under the influence of Washburn, Sheldon failed to drop supplies at the requested altitudes and denied flights of certain heights, for his plane apparently could not achieve such altitudes. Tabor attributed Sheldon’s reluctance not to his actual flying abilities, but rather to Washburn’s pervasive influence and desire to jeopardize the rescue effort.
Villain 3: The NPS (excluding Wayne Merry)
Tabor similarly portrayed the McKinley National Park Personnel, including George Hall and Arthur Hays, as reluctant to launch a full-out rescue effort for the men stranded on the mountain. He compares the ’67 tragedy to the Winter Expedition rescue effort, involving “three helicopters, T-33 reconnaissance jets, C-103’s, rescue teams from Washington State and Anchorage, and more than fifty military personnel.” Tabor asserts, “the park service’s mismanagement of later events increased the likelihood that its last act would leave bodies scattered about the mountain” (302).
Villain 4: Howard Snyder
While Snyder’s involvement in the tragedy minimally contributed to the death toll on the mountain (beyond his reluctance to launch a rescue search with Wilcox), Tabor undeniably frames Snyder as a focal antagonist of the narrative. Tabor devotes significant portions of his text to defending Snyder’s judgments of Wilcox. Like Washburn, Snyder repeatedly claims that inadequate leadership was the root cause of the ’67 disaster. If a lack of team cohesion at all contributed to the tragedy on the mountain, then Snyder’s aggression, claims Tabor, aided in the group tension.