It’s really tough to stay focused for all of us right now. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about doomed explorers and trying to keep focused. Here’s a bit from my latest newsletter:

“A lovely surprise last month from Washington University in St. Louis. A year ago, in the midst of an exchange about some correspondence in the papers of physicist Arthur Compton, I asked about his cosmic ray logbooks from 1932. The archivist promised to take a look and see if there was anything tucked away within them that pertained to the Mt McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition. She warned me it would take some time but I was happy for the chance at a discovery and last month she emailed on what she found. These included a few pages of financial notes about planned costs for the expedition which will be very helpful. (Not exciting information but answered several questions I have had.) Tucked in the pages there was also a letter from one of Allen Carpe’s closest friends, William Ladd, which included not only some very specific info but a closing paragraph that I think is quite poignant.”

Follow the link to see what I received.

At some point, research is a distraction and it really is time to get down to the writing. That’s where I’m at with the Cosmic Ray Expedition book right now.

“If I let myself, I would research forever. (I think I belong more in [Austin] Kleon’s “resistance” camp rather than “perfectionist” although I wish there was a “paranoid I might be missing something” camp I could claim.) I feel this quote from Greil Marcus very much: “I began to poke around, and the more I found, the less I knew.” That is so true – not so much about the mountaineering but about Allen Carpe’s varied career (I still can’t believe the degree to which he has been forgotten) and the battle among physicists over cosmic rays. But more than anything, all of this comes down to fear, of course, which is what stops every writer from writing. We are afraid of the blank page and our inability to put everything the subject demands onto it. Research is just another way to put off the challenge presented by the blank page.”

From my Op-Ed up at the Anchorage Daily News – last year was not good for Alaska flying.

” In the midst of analyzing the 2019 statistics, there should be conversations about decision-making on the part of not only pilots, but also within the management structures of those who employ them. This is particularly true for the repeat offenders — those companies that have crashed again and again over the years. There must also be a long-overdue reckoning of FAA oversight, which remains perennially flummoxed in finding solutions to Alaska’s long-documented problems. And we must talk about the numbers that are most important: two flight paramedics and two flight nurses, five tourists from the cruise ship Royal Princess, one tourist departing a lodge vacation, one epidemiologist traveling for work and four pilots on the job. We also should not forget the Ravn Air passenger overlooking the left engine on PenAir Flight 3296; he was killed when that aircraft skidded off the runway.

There have now been 568 aviation fatalities in the state since 1990, 345 of them in commercial aircraft. Those seem like significant losses but sadly, when it comes to forcing substantial change, they still aren’t significant enough.”

Ninety years ago, Alaska’s most famous bush pilot went missing with his mechanic, Earl Borland. Their bodies would not be found until three months later. Here’s a bit from my current newsletter with a look at the telegrams that detailed the search:

“Over the course of three months, there were about 150 telegrams exchanged between the search team based at the Nanuk and others back in Alaska and the Lower 48. Most of the telegrams were with Alaskan Airways, the company Ben was leading at the time of his death and that was now heavily involved in the search. (Joe Crosson and Harold Gillam were the two primary pilots on the search; they stayed in Siberia almost three months.) What Joe did that was so amazing was take possession of all the telegrams – both from the Nanuk and Alaskan Airways – when the search was over. He took them and kept them and, after his death from a heart attack, his wife Lillian kept them as well. About 20 years ago the telegrams were part of a donation that Lillian Crosson made to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and that is where I dug into them while looking for records on the Cosmic Ray Expedition.”

I have an Op-Ed up in the Anchorage Daily News about the crash of PenAir Flight 3296 in Dutch Harbor. The Saab 2000 overran the runway and almost went into the water; one passenger was killed and four injured.

In writing about this accident I also delved into the complex history of the company which purchased PenAir in bankruptcy court a year ago. Ravn Air Group is the largest rural air carrier in AK and it has a long history of accidents. I am sure this FAR Part 121 accident is going to garner a great deal of interest among aviation safety experts (not to mention aviation insurance companies).

I wrote about money and aviation infrastructure in Alaska for the Anchorage Daily News:

“Then Richard VanAllman, Manager of the FAA’s Planning and Requirements Group, Western Service Center, Air Traffic Organization, asserted with grim finality that Alaskans “are not going to get everything you want.” It all comes down to a calculus that everyone seemed to want to avoid: advanced aviation infrastructure is in place for the Lower 48 because even with devastating crash statistics, Alaska’s small population just does not and will not warrant that same degree of funding attention. So while the NTSB is genuinely concerned about the state’s recent accidents, the money is not coming to prevent future accidents. That is why risk assessment and SMS are such popular talking points: they’re cheap.

Here is one number no one thought to bring up at the meeting: 1,014. That is the number of Alaskan accidents classified as Part 135 since 1982, the first year the NTSB began archiving accident reports online. Those crashes resulted in 440 deaths. By any reasonable calculus including those two figures, it would seem Alaskans have paid far more than required to reach the same infrastructure standard as the Lower 48. If our living population is not enough, then surely our dead should provide plenty of champions worth counting. If not, well, everyone can come back next year and we’ll see how many more have been added to the list.”


There is a great mountaineering archive at Princeton University from a former president and longtime member of the American Alpine Club, J. Monroe Thorington. (He was a Princeton alumni and gifted all of his correspondence in addition to many other materials.)

In my recent newsletter I write about a stack of correspondence I was emailed from the archive that includes a great deal of information about the men I am writing about. Archives are amazing places; there is no way this book would be written without them.

See my latest newsletter here.

(You can also sign up to receive the monthly-ish newsletter, which will keep you up on my latest research finds, here.)