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Mendenhall Glacier's mountain sentinels

Posted: November 13, 2011 - 12:01am
Mt. McGinnis, Stroller White Mountain, Mendenhall Glacier, Nugget Falls and Bullard Mountain shine in Monday's morning sun. Residents are encouraged to enjoy the sunny weather as forecasts call for another 10 days of rain.  Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Mt. McGinnis, Stroller White Mountain, Mendenhall Glacier, Nugget Falls and Bullard Mountain shine in Monday's morning sun. Residents are encouraged to enjoy the sunny weather as forecasts call for another 10 days of rain.

Going out to the Mendenhall Glacier is always interesting to me, mainly because there is continuous change going on. I guess it’s startling that something so massive can change overnight even while, like a pair of cupped hands holding this giant white and blue jewel, several large mountains stand as sentinels. Looking from the valley floor toward the glacier there is a kind of optical illusion with the two mountains on the left. The two mountains seem to sit side by side but, in fact, Mount McGinnis on the far left is closest and Stroller White sits further back, about a mile and a half north by northeast from peak to peak, but is closest to the glacier.

On the east side of Mendenhall Glacier and north of Nugget Creek stands Mount Bullard, elevation 4,225 feet. The mountain was named for Benjamin Bullard who was born in Michigan in 1848 and grew up in California. He was said to have been a graduate civil and hydraulic engineer. Bullard came north to the Klondike in 1897 and after a few years at Dawson and Circle Cities he moved to Juneau. In 1904 and 1905 he staked a number of placer claims on the Mendenhall River, just below the glacier and on Nugget Creek. In 1907 he began mining some of his claims on Nugget Creek. The Treadwell Mining Company purchased those claims and the water rights for use as hydroelectric power for the mines. In about 1916 he moved to the Taku River and claimed a 148-acre homestead at what is now known as Bullard’s Landing. He died on his homestead May 22, 1933.

On the west side of Mendenhall Glacier stands Stroller White, a 5,150-foot mountain. The Mountain was named for Elmer J. “Stroller” White. He was born Nov. 28, 1859, in Ohio. He graduated from Muskingum College at New Concord, Ohio, and began a career in journalism with the Gainesville News in Florida. He worked in the Puget Sound area from 1891 to 1898 before heading for the Klondike, perhaps swept up in the excitement of the big gold rush or perhaps seeking new subjects for his articles. He became associate editor of the Skaguay News, a four-page publication established as a weekly in Oct. 1897 by publisher and editor M.L. Sherpy. The Yukon Territory was created in Aug. 1898 by Dominion Act of Parliament, and in November White moved on to Dawson.

At some point during the Klondike Gold Rush, White was a columnist and editor with the Whitehorse Star. He penned a hoax designed as a prequel to the popular drink called Ice Worm Cocktail ­— a tipple with a four-inch length of spaghetti at the bottom. White’s story described giant worms and blue snows that appear when the temperature drops below minus-75 degrees Fahrenheit. His column included an alleged interview with a 100-year-old Native man who told of the worm, a creature with a head on either end of its body that grew to four feet in length and chirped lustily when the temperature hovered around minus-70 to minus-80 for several weeks. This hoax is said to have inspired Robert W. Service to write his “Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail” and “When the Ice-Worms Nest Again.”

When White tired of the Yukon, it was back to Alaska again. In 1916, White was editor of the Douglas Island News. In 1921, he moved the printing equipment to Juneau and linked the name of the paper with a new partner, The Stroller’s Weekly. In 1918 White was elected a member of the house of representatives of the Alaska Territorial Legislature. He later became speaker of the house. He was appointed the first director of the Alaska Bureau of Publicity, but he continued to keep his hand in journalism, publishing The Stroller’s Weekly & Douglas Island News until his death in 1930. According to a chronology of Juneau and Douglas newspapers compiled by the Alaska State Library, his wife continued to publish the Weekly for three years after his death. Juneau historian Bob DeArmond, who was a cub reporter for The Stroller’s Weekly in the early 1930s, considered White the “Mark Twain of the North.”

Cuddled up close on the Southwest side of Stroller White is Mt. McGinnis. Looking at the three mountains it is really hard to tell that Mt. McGinnis is almost 900 feet shorter than Stroller White and there seems to be some argument concerning the elevation of Mount McGinnis. Some believe it to be 3,996 feet while the U.S. Forest Service believes it is 4,228 feet; either way it is shorter than Stroller White and close to the same as Mount Bullard.

Mount McGinnis was named with different conventions than the other two. On July 26, 1881 a couple of miners named John McInnis and Edward J. Brennan named a tributary to Montana Creek McInnis River during the process of staking a placer claim. Later miners wrote this name McKinnis Creek and later McGinnis Creek. John McInnis apparently did not remain long in the area, as information on him is scarce. Miners were active on McGinnis Creek for many years, on Idaho Gulch on the east side of the creek and Quartz Creek on the west. They called the upper part of the valley McGinnis Creek Buckeye Basin. McGinnis Mountain took its name from the creek. Later on, The U.S. Geological Service and the USFS maps changed the spelling of the mountain to Mount McGinnis.

From the end of the U.S. Forest Service’s West Glacier Trail, there is a trail that people use to recreationally climb Mount McGinnis. It may be reasonably easy for those in good shape to climb this mountain but those who choose to climb should keep in mind that people have been injured or killed doing so. So, be cautious. The other two mountains are far more difficult and there is no easy trail to the summit.

Personally, I believe that the people of Juneau are truly blessed to have such a beautiful glacier and mountains so easily seen and so easily reached; A recreational paradise in all of our back yards.

• Empire archives and Ed Grossman from the U.S. Forest Service contributed to this article.

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