Alaska, United States
Mount Blackburn is the highest peak in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska in the United States. It is the fifth highest peak in the United States and the twelfth highest peak in North America. The mountain is an old, eroded shield volcano, the second highest volcano in the United States behind Mount Bona and the fifth highest in North America. It was named in 1885 by Lt. Henry T. Allen of the U.S. Army after Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn, a U.S. senator from Kentucky. It is located in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the country.
The mountain's massif is covered almost entirely by icefields and glaciers, and is the principal source of ice for the Kennicott Glacier, which flows southeast over 20 miles to just above the town of McCarthy. The mountain also contributes a large volume of ice to the north-flowing Nabesna Glacier and the Kuskulana Glacier system.
Mount Blackburn is a large, dramatic peak, with great local relief and independence from higher peaks. Its west face drops over 11,000 ft (3,350 m) to the Kuskulana Glacier in less than 4 horizontal miles (6 km). Its other faces drop 8,000-10,000 feet (2,440-3,050 m), all in less than 8 miles. The toe of the Kuskulana Glacier, less than 12 miles from the summit, lies at an elevation of 2,400 ft (730 m), giving a rise of 14,000 ft (4,270 m). While these figures speak to the peak's relief, one measure of its independence is that it is the 50th most topographically prominent peak in the world.
The western of Blackburn’s two summits is the mountain’s highpoint, a fact that was not understood until the 1960s when the then new USGS maps came out. The first ascent of the west peak, and hence Mount Blackburn, was done on May 30, 1958 by Bruce Gilbert, Dick Wahlstrom, Hans Gmoser, Adolf Bitterlich, and Leon Blumer via the North (also called the Northwest) Ridge. This team made the first ascent of Blackburn, but did not even know it at the time due to the incorrect identification of the highpoint. In fact Blumer’s article in the 1959 American Alpine Journal is titled “Mount Blackburn - Second Ascent.”
Kennedy Peak, or East Blackburn, 16,286 ft (4964 m), is the eastern summit and the one that was originally thought to be the highest point. The first ascent of this summit was made in 1912 by Dora Keen and George Handy via the Kennicott Glacier (on the south side of the mountain) and East Face. This heady exploit was ahead of its time. Dora Keen, driven by a deep desire for the climb, solicited miners from the nearby Kennicott Copper Mine, and forged a route up the heavily crevassed East Face to the East Peak, but did not traverse over to the West Peak. Keen went on to write a famous article for the Saturday Evening Post titled, “First up Mount Blackburn.” In 1912, Keen and Handy thought they were on Blackburn’s highest point.
Today's standard route on the peak is the 1958 ascent route, the North (or Northwest) Ridge, which is approached from the Nabesna Glacier, on the north side of the mountain, opposite from Keen and Hardy's route. The route starts from an airstrip on the glacier at an altitude of 7,200 feet. It is a moderate climb by Alaskan standards (Alaska Grade 2).