The Mount Cleveland Five went missing on the North Face of Waterton-Glacier’s famed peak on Dec. 29, 1969. Terry Kennedy, a distant friend of one of the climbers, was just 15 years old. In the days surrounding the tragedy, a passion was ignited – and a 40-year-long mountaineering career was born.
Kennedy’s deliberate memoir of over four decades of climbing, guiding, and rescues, In Search of the Mount Cleveland Five, is a detailed tribute to those fearless “forward thinkers” who have conquered and lost on some of Montana’s greatest heights.
As a high schooler, the author and several others took to the mountains of Northwest Montana and the illustrious “Dirty Sox Club” was born. Over the coming decades, the group grew in skills, surmounting some of Montana and Wyoming’s most notorious elevations, many of which are thoroughly outlined in this dedication to mountaineering and the literal and figurative efforts it embodies.
The central metaphor for this book comes in the multiple connotations of the title. Not only was Kennedy in search of the mysteries surrounding the deaths of these fearless young climbers, but also on his own trek to finish their undone journey. Therefore, this book is not just a climbing memoir, but also one man’s life work.
Summiting the face where the Mount Cleveland Five met their end is the thrust of this book; a feat attained on page 175 of 320. Aside from this goal, the book revolves around the motif of brotherhood, specifically the bond between the author and Jim Kanzler, the brother of one of the five climbers who perished on Mount Cleveland.
Peaks reached by the duo include Glacier’s Mount Siyeh, a triumph marred by conflict between the men: “As I descended Mount Siyeh, I turned to look at my friend ambling Glacier’s blonde talus and scree, as he had done so many times … but he was gone. Life would never be the same.”
The loss of their friendship left an indelible mark upon Kennedy and his climbing career.
A sense of resolution comes at the book’s climax, when Kennedy and Jim Kanzler’s son, Jamie, nearly befall the same fate as the Mount Cleveland Five atop Denali National Park’s East Kahiltna Peak. Kennedy’s rescue of Kanzler and his friend, JP Gambetese, are a stark reminder of the perils surrounding their high-risk sport, and further cements them to ancestral climbers, the Mount Cleveland Five, and the annals of mountaineering.
For those who love adventure and the power of human connection, In Search of the Mount Cleveland Five is a worthy read.
– Brynn Cadigan