Mount Cleveland Five: A mountain and a tragedy

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  • Jim Kanzler, left, and Terry Kennedy prepare to bivouac on the north face of Mount Cleveland. (Photo courtesy of Steve Jackson)

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    From left, Steve Jackson, Terry Kennedy and Jim Kanzler after they made the first ascent of Mount Cleveland's north face in 1976.

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  • Jim Kanzler, left, and Terry Kennedy prepare to bivouac on the north face of Mount Cleveland. (Photo courtesy of Steve Jackson)

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    From left, Steve Jackson, Terry Kennedy and Jim Kanzler after they made the first ascent of Mount Cleveland's north face in 1976.

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In mid-September, 1976, three young men in their 20s, Terry G. Kennedy, Jim Kanzler and Steve Jackson, made a first ascent of Mount Cleveland’s north face in Glacier National Park.

At 10,466 feet, Cleveland is the highest peak in the Park. Its north face is a daunting sight — 4,000-plus feet of nearly sheer vertical terrain, most of it rotten rock.

For Kennedy, a Columbia Falls native, the ascent marked a milestone in his life. Kennedy tells of his quest to climb the face, and many other peaks, in his new, self-published book, “In Search of the Mount Cleveland Five.”

The “five” refers to Clare Pogreba, Ray Martin, Jerry Kanzler, Jim Anderson and Mark Levitan, all Montana men in their late teens and early 20s, who died in an avalanche while climbing, or possibly descending, the storied peak in December 1969.

Their deaths deeply affected and inspired Kennedy, who was a high school student when the tragedy happened.

In this autobiographical story, which took Kennedy more than 10 years to write, he befriends Jim Kanzler after high school, when the two lived in Bozeman. Kennedy was a student at Montana State University; Kanzler was the director of ski patrol at Big Sky Resort.

They’re all part of the climbing group known as the Dirty Socks Club. Kennedy began climbing in high school — early on he makes a winter ascent of Teakettle Mountain wearing homemade crampons from roofing nails. The nails fail — they all bend over — but Kennedy still makes it to the top, in the dark, no less.

As the years progress, the climbs become increasingly difficult. Kennedy and Kanzler not only climb the north face of Cleveland, but they also climb the equally difficult north face of Mount Siyeh, another 10,000-foot peak in Glacier.

It takes them three attempts to climb Siyeh — on one attempt they get caught in a snowstorm and come close to falling to their deaths. On another ascent, a rock nearly takes them out.

Kennedy has several other climbing adventures and near-death experiences in the book climbing with other members of the Dirty Socks Club. He’s lived a charmed life, to put it mildly.

Writing it was also a long journey.

“I started in 2000 or 2001 ... but the writing was disjointed,” he said in a recent interview.

But like climbing a peak, he kept at the challenge of the writing and slowly the stories came together into a cohesive and entertaining tale — many chapters are hard to put down.

The book ends in 1992. By then, Kanzler had lost his passion for climbing (tragically, he shot himself in 2011), but Kennedy continues his quest for challenging ascents and goes to Alaska with Jim’s son, Jamie, to climb a new route on the Kahiltna Peaks — a western spur of Denali.

Death lurks around every corner in that adventure as well.

We won’t tell you how it ends.

“In Search of the Mount Cleveland Five” is available on Amazon, at Kennedy’s web site, www.terrygkennedy.com and locally at Rocky Mountain Outfitter in Kalispell. It also features many photos of Kennedy’s climbing adventures and mishaps over the years. Kennedy currently continues to climb and works as a physical therapist in Bozeman.

In 2017, he last climbed Mount Cleveland with the Glacier Mountaineering Society. The Cleveland Five are still in his thoughts, some 48 years later.

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