Mount McKinley Monument


While it’s not uncommon to hear from those who have found our survey monuments dotted around the country at various landmarks and geological sites, one recent story about a particularly notable monument stood out among the rest.


As described in her 2006 book Lasting Impressions, Rhonda Rushing, President of Berntsen International Inc., recounts an especially challenging survey marking project that took researchers and Berntsen’s highly robust survey monuments to extreme heights and harrowing conditions.


Carried out in the summer of 1989, an eight-man surveying expedition set out to climb Mount McKinley––the largest peak in North America––with two goals in mind. First, they wanted to determine the deflection of vertical near a mountain mass as massive as McKinley. Second, researchers wanted to demonstrate that the technology was available to make precise measurements using GPS equipment in such a high altitude environment––a notable feat during that time.


After reaching the summit, surveyors placed a monument designed specially by Berntsen to withstand the inhospitable conditions found on the mountain before completing their measurements and returning home. During the 25 years since, not a single reported sighting of the marker ever made it back to the Berntsen team until this past summer––when by chance, a relative of two climbers mentioned having heard it was discovered; an exciting surprise to coincide with the expedition’s 25th anniversary.


Braving the conditions to pioneer a new technology


Remembering the project’s inception, Rushing expressed pride for her father’s work as an important part of the project. Not knowing exactly what surface conditions surveyors would face at the summit, Berntsen designed a custom monument rod that was built in several separate pieces, which could be assembled to fit the boring depths possible atop the mountain.


The monument cap was constructed out of a special four-inch bronze and magnesium cap fitted to a half inch steel rod with a unique locking mechanism built to withstand the brutal conditions atop the continent’s highest mountain.


Along with the marker, the team also carried a GPS surveying system modified to withstand the punishing condition McKinley is known for.


Finding what was thought to be lost


After the monument’s placement, the Berntsen team wouldn’t hear about it again for over two decades. During that time, the lack of any direct sightings by subsequent climbing expeditions led many to assume the monument had either gradually sunk into the ice, or was pulled out of the mountain by climbers looking to take home a souvenir.


These theories were put to rest after Kurt and Craig Konz made their ascent to the summit during the summer of 2013. Already accomplished backcountry skiers, the brothers looked to McKinley for a more challenging climbing experience. After a six-day journey through adverse weather and difficult climbing conditions, the pair reached the summit where they said it was “impossible not to see” the monument shining within the icepack.


A find with real significance for surveyors


Among the many enjoyable stories of people stumbling upon markers and monuments around the country at places like Disney Land, Monticello, and the Appalachian Trail, Rhonda Rushing says this find was particularly notable because of both the difficult conditions found at the site, as well as the scientific significance the monument represents today.


Until then, measurements of the mountain relied on the findings gathered over 30 years prior. This project marked the first time such an elevation could be surveyed using GPS systems, which at the time, had not yet been adapted to monitor and assess such extreme geological locations.


“It’s a privilege to be in on these projects,” Rushing says. As humans it’s important to know where you are and how high you are. It was exciting to see that it was accomplished.”


If you’re interested in using Berntsen’s trusted line of survey monuments, survey equipment, or other quality products we carry, visit the Survey Monument product page or request a catalog.


If you’re interested in reading more about the Mount McKinley research project along with other stories of notable survey monuments from around the country, grab Rhonda Rushing’s Lasting Impressions: A Glimpse into the Legacy of Surveying today.


Click here to read the extended article in Professional Surveyor Magazine.


Photo credit: Denali National Park and Preserve