Overall Impressions and Conclusion

ven after coffee it's quite difficult composing this web page. Try it sometime - take a blank sheet of paper (or empty text file, your pick) and write a coherent, detailed, thoughtful analysis of how and why you failed to realize a twenty year goal ... and what you might plan to rectify matters.

Include not the facts as already laid bare as that would be a waste of real estate measured in square inches and the reader's patience. Rather, expound upon your personal strengths, failings and motivations both over decades and during the expedition itself.

Ready? Here we go...

chemical isomers
Various types of isomerism
in organic chemistry.

am a scientist who climbs mountains - not a mountaineer who once worked hard for a living. My natural talents lie exclusively in the academic arena. In both grade school and college I was a star perfomer, the Reinhold Messner (a famous alpinist) in my chosen field of Chemistry. I was nearly a legend, breezing through the Organic Chemistry textbook after one-third of the semester course. People talked about me in the Department. I can rotate molecules in my head while everybody else needed models to comprehend stereochemical concepts.

I've won prizes for mathematical calculations without recourse to a hand calculator.

I've played chess, best boy on the winning high school team for all southern California. My brother Dale was also superb. Friends suggested that I go for the cross country track team because I always ran fast and never tired - yet my heart was not "into" that idea.

Phi Betta Kappa at UCLA - with a double major.

Why am I climbing mountains when my talents lie elsewhere?

cohp completion map

I lack a valid excuse. The only answer, and a rather poor one at that,
is simply that I love mountains and everything to do with them.
As partial demonstration mouse-click the county highpoint completion map at left
to portray the full-size version.

I've enjoyed many hobbies, including numismatics, philately and cooking.
However nothing holds a candle to collecting mountaintops!

As a result I decided a decade ago to pursue my passion as a lifelong hobby,
and be damned with the eternal rat race of attempting to achieve tenure
or please some boss with half my brains and twice the salary.

Who among us would refuse to follow their dream?

So I took my unique skills and "ran" with them in a totally different direction, my goal being to apply talent for the greater good - aiding and encouraging an eclectic group of peakbaggers interested in the highest points of American counties.

power law
Climber peak counts follow a
Power Law relation.

I marshalled computer skills, learned as a computational chemist at work,
to design and manufacture an entire website for the county highpointers.

I researched, wrote and published a book on topographic prominence, no small matter indeed.

I have used mathematical tools to describe many phenomena of interest to climbers - all novel contributions.

Most people could not understand. This "mathematical illiteracy" is disturbing, and presages the eventual downfall of America as technical jobs go abroad because nowadays the money is in sports, entertainment and elsewhere - not science and engineering.

Adam at the 11,000 foot camp. (DC)

So I began to write. I don't like it and I am not adept at this pursuit - and will always be a third rate author as my heart is simply not there. So please excuse the amateurish nature of my work. It is, nonetheless, my attempt at entertainment, the hope being that the dozens of hours spent elaborating this expedition review is somehow compensated by the insight, vicarious experience and dreams so instilled in hundreds of readers.

am tiny for an American guy. That's just the way it is. My BMI (body mass index) is akin to an Indian peasant or a 15 year old teenager (and a slight one at that). I have come to accept that I will never place well in arm wrestling or for that matter any test of sheer strength (although I can do many many pull-ups).

Being light is a significant advantage both in rock climbing and in bagging peaks more generally. However it's a major problem with one mountain in particular - McKinley - and because the required loads are significantly larger than any other peak (including Mount Everest).

My small size is also likely responsible for finger cold sensitivity. I hate to admit it, yet the only other people I've seen or heard about with such an issue are girls of roughly the same body build. The problem can be mitigated...


It is a pity that the one mountain I set as a lifetime goal
is the very one for which I am least physically qualified.

THAT is why I've been forced into hiring a guide service rather than climbing privately.
          I have never had such extraordinarily negative outcomes, repeatedly, for any other mountain.

THAT is why my fingers became a serious issue well before others had any difficulty.


Quoting President Kennedy,

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do these other
  things not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."


verybody faces difficult challenges, be it lost employment, some dreaded illness or a broken heart. Climbing mountains is well recognized as a metaphor for such challenges in the most literal, physical sense possible. For many enthusiasts, indeed I claim the majority, this difficulty is an essential component of the pursuit. One strives to overcome natural hurdles for a few, brief moments of self-accomplishment with magnificent vistas.

flight vista
return flight

If I must explain further, then, dear reader, climb a mountain and verify what a thrill it IS. Don't drive up (this is sometimes possible) as there is little sense of achievement. Repeat the act over a thousand times, in as many different places, and you will find something amazing -

All your "normal" life becomes trivial. Tasks that may have concerned you fall away like child's play.

Quoting the famous naturalist John Muir,

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine
  flows into trees. The winds will blow their own
  freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
  while cares will drop away from you like the
  leaves of Autumn.

Mount McKinley is simply the final act of this love affair.

Indeed, there is a part of me which claims that I have intentionally failed, subconsciously, because after McKinley there are only lesser challenges - signaling the slow, inevitable and unwinnable downhill battle with old age and decrepitude.

We are all going there; and despite Einstein's relativity theory concepts, all at the same rate unless my more work-oriented colleagues devise a practical means of near light speed travel.


he details of our expedition fade to insignificance with these considerations. Even whether one summits, although clearly important, perhaps matters less than several other desirables that were realized - and as already described in the Introduction.

Washburn's thumb
Nearing Washburn's Thumb
at 16,800 feet elevation.

For on a mountain the likes of McKinley it is the trials - both a struggle to outwit your inner fear and master the unwelcome environment - that are most telling and ultimately precious.

Clearly I should return, not the least because there's a fair chance I can attempt this peak a record number of times before success wins the day. How to realize that goal given my small size, advancing age and poor circulation remains an open case. 1

I have ideas. They include hiring a private guide who is willing to handle a "problem case" such as myself. I would go with trusted friends. Electric gloves using rechargeable lithium batteries.

Who is willing to tackle McKinley in June 2015?

You must have a bevy of assets, both financial and skill-wise. We can work together to make good any perceived shortfalls - including a seriously cold winter camp in North Dakota come February.

Experience and willingness to suffer (just a bit) are prerequisites. Please join me as I continue to dance with Denali.

The saga continues...

          Adam Helman, July 2013

1 Through the hydrologic cycle my water molecules eventually will fall upon the entire
  Mount McKinley massif anyway - including the summit. Even my oxygen and nitrogen
  atoms will eventually recombine and be respired by all future McKinley summiteers.

  Thus cremation and spreading my ashes there are superfluous.
  Furthermore, cremation is forbidden by Jewish law and custom.

Kahiltna Glacier
Enormous, awe-inspiring scale of the Alaska Range -
surely this is reason enough to return?

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