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Wall Street Glacier

Upward Trends for Alpenstocks
Published 9-7-2021 | Last updated 8-20-2021
61.243, -149.051


[Unofficial name, no GNIS Entry]


Since the early 1800s, New York’s Wall Street has made and broken many fortunes. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Glacier and the rest of the landscape at the headwaters of Peters Creek has enriched plenty of people spiritually but most likely none financially, though not for lack of trying.

Prior to American settlement of Cook Inlet, the area was subsistence hunting grounds for the local Dena’ina, who used a pass overlooking the glacier to travel “between upper Peters Creek and to upper Eklutna Lake.” Its straightforward name Htestighitun Tustes translates to ‘Trail Goes Through Pass’ Pass.[1]

In August 1911, P.J. McDonald, Hy. H. Sharp, Percy E. Pitchford, Peter Jensen, and Victor Forsman became possibly the first Americans to visit the region. They staked eight gold claims: the Forsman, the Martina, the Lilah, the Jensen, the Virginia, the Sylvania, the Ariel, and the Pitchford. At that point in time the Wall Street Glacier, Raisin Glacier and The Shroud Glacier clinging to Bellicose Peak were most likely a single, continuous body of ice. The party referred to that glacier as “McDonald Glacier,” and modern-day Mt. Rumble as “Mt. Sharp at the head of Peters Creek.”[2]

Had they struck it rich, those names might still be on our maps. Initial development certainly seemed optimistic: by January of 1912 Forsman and Jensen sold their share to the remaining 3 partners, and several days later Frank Brown bought in for five hundred dollars. In May 1912 at least one cabin was complete, two mills were under construction, and several of the original claims were extended to cover more area. Later in 1912, the Rebeka Claim was also staked and describes what is now known as Peters Peak as Mt. Aurum: “The discovery monument of this claim is situated on the crest of Brown point, a spur of Mount Aurum, which runs out into McDonald Glacier at the head of Peters Creek.”[3]

But just three years later, that first business venture above the Wall Street Glacier had folded. The geologist S.R. Capps visited upper Peters Creek while preparing his report The Turnagain Knik Region (Bulletin 642-E), and noted that:

“Active prospecting has been done for several years on a group of claims near the head of Peters Creek. […] Two cabins have been built near these claims, which are several miles from the nearest available timber. One cabin is in the main valley of Peters Creek, near the point at which it emerges from beneath the glacier, and the other is high on the edge of the glacier some 2,000 feet above the lower cabin. On the mountain side northeast of the lower cabin and at an altitude about 1,100 feet above it a tunnel 37 feet long was driven on a fracture zone containing a quartz vein 2 inches or less in thickness.
The other tunnels on this property lie on the steep mountain wall above the upper edge of the Peters Creek glacier, over 2,500 feet above the lower cabin. To reach them it is necessary to cross a portion of the glacier. At the time of visit in June, 1915 there was no one resident on the property, and the snow banks on the mountain were so abundant that the tunnels could not be found and probably were covered with snow. It is reported that four tunnels have been started there, on two separate claims.”
[4]

In abandoning the mine, the men abandoned their names to a few obscure pages in a District Recorder’s book, and when he arrived there was nothing for Capps to record. Dena’ina names were likewise not preserved due to some combination of language barriers, lack of contact with Natives, and perhaps lack of interest in overcoming those obstacles. To this day, no original Native name for the glacier is known. The peaks and glaciers above Peters Creek were terra incognita, at least as far as the federal government was concerned.

The landscape held no gold, just ice and the most stark cliffs in the Chugach State Park. Walls rising to Mount Rumble, Peters Peak, Bellicose Peak, and Benign Peak loom over two thousand feet above the narrow valley containing the northern fork of upper Peters Creek and the glacier which feeds it. In August 1987, mountaineers Stu Grenier and Willy Hersman crossed into that valley after climbing Mt. Rumble. They intended to climb The Shroud, rendezvous with a third climber who had taken a different approach, and summit Bellicose Peak together. Both were struck by the verticality surrounding them, and the task of ascending The Shroud. Grenier remembers “a hanging ice field with a life ending drop. It would have been a very long traverse with […] rock fall and lots of exposure. Not conducive to becoming an old man.”[5] He turned back, and Hersman pressed on solo for a little while until confronted by crevasses, then followed suit.

On the way out, Hersman floated a few possible names for the glacier before bestowing the name ‘Wall Street,’ “partly due to [his] friendship with Charlie Sassara, a stock broker at the time, later President of the American Alpine Club, and also because of the walled-in feeling of being on that glacier.”[6] In the trip report later published, it was succinctly described in less claustrophobic terms: “Incredible view; the biggest walls in the Western Chugach are in this deep valley.”[7] The name remains unofficial, but has stayed in local use ever since.

The two had taken stock of the situation, considered the gains they had already experienced and the risk of a crash, and decided to invest their time elsewhere. Sometimes cashing out is the best option: just six weeks after Grenier and Hersman decided not to continue, the worldwide “Black Monday” stock market crash of October 1987 vaporized $1.7 trillion in share value.[8] For all its perils, the Wall Street Glacier has never been so treacherous.


Sources


[1] Kari, J. and Fall, J. Shem Pete's Alaska (rev. 2 ed.). Fairbanks, Alaska: The University of Alaska Press, 2016.

[2] David, L., Quartz Location; Mill Site Location; Mining Deed. Knik Mining District Precinct Book 2, 187-191; 259-261.

[3] David, L., Quartz Location. Knik Mining District Precinct Book 2, 363.

[4] Capps, S.R. The Turnagain-Knik Region, in Mineral Resources of Alaska, Report on Progress of Investigations in 1915. USGS Bulletin 642. Washington, D.C: Geological Survey (U.S.), 1916. https://dggs.alaska.gov/pubs/id/3428 (accessed June 16, 2020).

[5] Grenier, Stuart, in discussion with the author. March 2021.

[6] Hersman, Willy, in discussion with the author. May 2021.

[7] Hersman, W., “Three Sundays on Bellicose” The Scree, Mountaineering Club of Alaska, September 1987.

[8] Schaede, Ulrike. “Black Monday in New York, Blue Tuesday in Tokyo: The October 1987 Crash in Japan.” California Management Review 33, no. 2 (January 1991): 39–57. https://doi.org/10.2307/41166649.