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The 1906 Mount McKinley fraud

"Cook's story was so fraudulent, that one does not have time to talk about it."  [delegate in Congress from Alaska]

"PROF. PARKER LAYS BARE MOUNT MCKINLEY FAKE OF DR. COOK—MAKES A
DUPLICATE PHOTOGRAPH OF HIS FAMOUS “TOP OF THE CONTINENT" AT AN ELEVATION OF ONLY 5,000 FEET AND 20 MILES AWAY FROM THE BASE OF THE GIANT ALASKAN PEAK
—EXPOSURE BY EDWARD BARRILL IS COMPLETELY CORROBORATED—WITH MAP MADE BY FORMER GUIDE AND DR. COOK'S OWN PHOTOGRAPH NOTED EXPLORER AND MOUNTAIN CLIMBER HAS NO TROUBLE IN LOCATING THE SPOT."

Prof. Parker, of Columbia University, Photographs Dr. Cook's Peak Many Miles from Mount McKinley.

It will be remembered that upon Dr. Cook's return from the Arctic regions in 1909 the guide whom he alleged went to the top of Mount McKinley with him announced that they never had been to the summit and that the picture Dr. Cook took with this guide holding a flag on the top was miles from the peak. Dr. Cook, with respect to this, asserted that this was merely a plot of Admiral Peary to ruin him. Anyone, however, who takes the trouble to examine the newspaper files of that period can readily ascertain for himself that this guide repudiated Cook's claim before it was even known that Peary had reached the North Pole, for at the time he had not yet been even heard from. This guide subsequently drew a map upon which he located the peak which was photographed as the summit of Mount McKinley.
(Fess, 1915)

Frederick Cook never climbed Mt McKinley, but claimed that he did.
DESCRIBES ANOTHER RIDGE.
“That the evidence before the committee is to the effect that it would be utterly impossible to ascend the glaciers and frozen snow slopes wearing the rubber shoepacks which Dr. Cook states in his book he wore while making the ascent.

“That Dr. Cook's description of the ascent of Mount McKinley on the northeast ridge, which is the ridge by which he claimed to have reached the peak, is in reality, a description of the southeast ridge. The former ridge was explored by him on a previous expedition and in his book he declares it impossible as a route to the peak.”

Washburn roasts Cook's phony McKinley story

Triple reprint compares Fred's phony version with the real thing by the first team to climb McKinley.

Cook's 1903 McKinley team member exposed Fred as a fraud
DECLARES PICTURES FAKES.
Brown fortifies his charges with the declaration that Cook and Barrill had no ice creepers, and that, though Dr. Cook afterwards told Prof. Parker that he and Barrill were roped together every foot of the last stages, Prof. Parker and Brown both remembered that they destroyed the climbing rope as defective before they quit the expedition. Furthermore, in none of the pictures published in Dr. Cook's book does a climbing rope appear.

Brown and Sheldon also report that various photographs in Dr. Cook's book do not represent the peaks they are said to picture; while Sheldon, denies that he is the author of the appendix C in the book which Dr. Cook credits to him.
HIS PLANS NOT FEASIBLE.
Prof. Parker reports that he was a partner with Dr. Cook in the McKinley expedition, both physically and financially, Dr. Cook assumed the lead with a plan which proved unfeasible, and the party escaped with their lives, thanks to the local knowledge of Belmore Brown, one of its members. “It was perfectly understood,” says Prof. Parker, “that after the misadventure all further attempts were abandoned for the season.” Otherwise Prof. Parker would not have left the expedition.

Instead of this, Dr. Cook, it is charged, sidetracked all members of the expedition until there remained only himself, his guide, Barrill, and one packer, who was subsequently got rid of also. These defections left Dr. Cook, says Prof. Parker, no instruments capable of measuring the altitudes he says he attained. Moreover, he adds, the summer's experience had shown that of all the party Dr. Cook and Barrill were the least fitted physically for arduous mountain climbing.

Belmore Brown, in the main, confirms Prof. Parker, and says also that in Dr. Cook's book there is not one date given from the time he left the Chulitna River. This makes intelligent criticism impossible, he declares. Brown asserts further that he never saw Dr. Cook make a single aneroid barometer reading during the whole trip. Confirming a charge that has previously been made, he says that Dr. Cook was known to be in serious financial straits, and would have had great difficulty in getting out of Alaska if he had not reported that he attained the summit of Mount McKinley.
Cook bribed his guide Ed Barrill (left).

"Dr. Cook was known to be in serious financial straits, and would have had great difficulty in getting out of Alaska if he had not reported that he attained the summit of Mount McKinley."

From Travel Magazine, 1910

Dr. Cook's Claim to Having Ascended to the Summit of Mount McKinley, in Alaska.

Dr. Cook's contention that he ascended to the summit of Mount McKinley two or three years prior to his claim with respect to the North Pole is a matter with which the public generally is so thoroughly familiar that it is hardly worth while to comment thereon extensively. The Delegate in Congress from Alaska, who himself attempted the first ascent to the summit of the mountain in the year 1903, does not hesitate to say with respect to Dr. Cook:
"All of us who know anything about Mount McKinley know that Cook's story of his successful ascent of that mountain is a deliberate falsehood. * * * His story was so fraudulent, that one does not have time to talk about it."

Explorers' Club Investigate and Reject Dr. Cook's Claim to Have Climbed Mount McKinley and Then Expel Him from Membership.

The Explorers' Club, after investigating Dr. Cook's claim to have climbed Mount McKinley, rejected it and expelled him from membership. The following account of their action I take from report in the Washington Post of December 25, 1909:

CLUB EXPELS COOK—EXPLORERS DECLARE MOUNT MCKINLEY “ASCENT” A FRAUD—EXPOSED IN LONG REPORT—NEEDING MONEY, FORMER FRIENDS SAY, HE PUT UP THE JOB—ASSOCIATES ON THE TRIP TO ALASKA ASSERT THAT PICTURES, HIS CLAIMS, AND HIS BOOK ARE ALL A SERIES OF PALPABLE FAKES—PHOTOGRAPHED ONE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN AND MADE IT APPEAR TO BE ANOTHER—HAD NO INSTRUMENTS.
NEW YORK, December 24, 1909

The board of governors of the Explorers' Club met to-day in executive session and, standing in silence, voted with bowed heads that Dr. Frederick A. Cook be dropped from the rolls of the club for frauds practiced on its members and on the public. Preliminary to its vote of expulsion
the board met to pass upon the report of its committee, which has been investigating the validity of Dr. Cook's assertion that he reached, the summit of Mount McKinley. This committee, in concluding an exhaustive report, recommended that—

“Dr. Cook's claim that he ascended the summit of Mount McKinley in 1906 be rejected by the Explorers' Club as unworthy of credence.”

The committee's recommendation was based on its finding that—“Dr. Cook had repeatedly made statements that have not been in accord with the facts, and that he had entered into agreements which he has failed to keep, and that the misstatements and broken agreements deal not only with matters appertaining to discovery, but to ordinary financial transactions, so that no credence can be given to statements made by him.”

FRIENDS AMONG SIGNERS.
Among the signatures appended were those of Whitney and Anthony Fiala, both personal friends of Dr. Cook. The committee Is further explicit in its statement that it undertook its investigation only after first apprising Dr. Cook of its purpose, which he approved in person; and that it has disregarded the testimony of Edward Barrill, Dr. Cook's guide, and of Frederick Printz, his packer, although such testimony was before them—because it wished no cloud of partisan contention or question of financial interest to dim the integrity of its verdict.

In addition to Whitney and Fiala, the report is signed by Frederick S. Dallenbaugh, of the American Geographical Society; Prof. Marshal H. Saville, of the chair of archaeology in Columbia University; Walter G. Clark, Charles H. Townsend, director of the New York aquarium, and Henry G. Walsh, secretary of the Explorers' Club, and individual signed reports are submitted by Herschel C. Parker, professor of physics at Columbia, and Belmore Brown, both of whom are members of the Cook-McKinley expedition, and by Charles Sheldon who has recently returned from a year's residence on the slope of Mount McKinley, where he went for the purpose of studying the configuration of the mountain, with a view to the possibility of its ascent.

The committee as a whole, therefore, concludes in part that—
“Dr. Cook's account of the ascent is not only such as to be unconvincing to the experienced mountaineer, but that under analysis it becomes incredible.
“That he entered into a secret financial agreement with a publisher which resulted in embarrassment to his associates.
“That he broke his agreement with his fellow club members to supply his original photographs and data upon which his book was based.

Prof. Parker, of Columbia University, subsequently took this map to Alaska in an effort to locate this fake peak.
The following newspaper clipping sets forth his report upon the subject:

Indisputable evidence of the falsity of Dr. Frederick A. Cook's claim to having ascended to the top of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, is furnished by Prof. Herschal C. Parker, of Columbia University, who has just returned to New York City from his latest trip to Alaska. Prof. Parker undertook the journey during the past summer to settle once and for all time the question of Dr. Cook's veracity as to the Mount McKinley episode, and the proofs he has brought back with him show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man who failed miserably in his attempt to rob Capt. Robert E. Peary of the credit of having discovered the North Pole was 20 miles away in an air line from the “Top of the Continent” at the time he claims to have stood on the utmost height of the snow-capped peak.

The most important piece of evidence obtained by Prof. Parker, and which not even the most ardent supporter of Dr. Cook can question, if there be any left who still believe in him, is a duplicate photograph of Dr. Cook's Top of the Continent, or, as he was pleased to also term it, the ultima thule of his ambition. * * *

The most cursory examination of the two pictures will show that they are photographs of the same rock, while a tracing of the outlines of each leaves no doubt of it.

Archdeacon Stuck, of Alaska, Exposes Dr. Cook.
The Rev. Dr. Hudson Stuck, archdeacon of the Yukon, in 1913 made the first accepted ascent of the summit. In his book upon the subject, published by Scribners in 1914, after tracing Dr. Cook's account of his alleged trip with the packer Barrille to a point on a glacier several miles from Mount McKinley, then asserted:

From this point “up and up to the heaven-scraped granite of the top" Dr. Cook grows grandiloquent and vague, for at this point his true narrative ends.

The claims that Dr. Cook made on his return are well known, but it is quite impossible to follow his course from the description given in his book, To the Top of the Continent.
Dr. Cook talks “about the heaven-scraped granite of the top” and “the dazzling whiteness of the frosted granite blocks.” and prints a photograph of the top showing granite slabs. There is no rock of any kind on the south (the higher) peak above 19,000 feet. The last 1,500 feet of the mountain is all permanent snow and ice: nor is the conformation of the summit in the least like the photograph printed as “the top of Mount McKinley.”

But it is not worth while to pursue the subject further. The present writer feels confident that any man who climbs to the top of Denali (Mount McKinley) and then reads Dr. Cook's account of his ascent will not need Edward Barrille's (note: incorrect spelling of Barrill is from original text) affidavit to convince him that Cook's narrative is untrue. Indignation is, however, swallowed up in pity when one thinks upon the really excellent pioneering and exploring work done by this man and realizes that the immediate success of the imposition about the ascent of Denali (Mount McKinley) doubtless led to the more audacious imposition about the discovery of the North Pole and that to his discredit and downfall.

All text on this page is from the 1915 Fess speech to Congress.