A Juneau Icefield Research Program expedition ascended the remote mountain on July 29, 2018 to survey the summit position and elevation with GPS. (Photo courtesy of JIRP)
An unnamed peak in the Juneau Icefield may get a cool-sounding name dreamt up a half-century ago — but then nearly forgotten.
Climbing a mountain for the first time often brings more than just bragging rights.
“Typically when somebody climbs a peak for the first time, they get sort of the privilege of naming the peak,” said Jerry McGee, a faculty member with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, a research group that’s studied the area’s glaciers since the 1940s.
He was part of last summer’s expedition up a 7,057-foot craggy peak that’s about 35 miles north of downtown Juneau. But it’s still a world away in the remote Juneau Icefield, a network of glaciers and crevices between Upper Lynn Canal and the Canadian border.
“We came up with our own name for it which was ‘Sun Storm Peak,’” McGee said.
The researchers then filed a state geographic name application to make it official on maps.
“There’s quite a few unnamed peaks in all the mountain ranges of Alaska,” said State Historian Jo Antonson, who handles naming applications.
But this peak wasn’t one of them.
Further digging revealed that The American Alpine Journal had carried a short item in 1970 detailing an expedition by some of the early members of the icefield research program.
“And that’s when we discovered that it had been climbed in 1969 and given the name Gorgon Spire,” McGee said.
As that name was never officially recognized, it had been virtually forgotten nearly 50 years later. But McGee says one of the original members of that expedition related the name’s origins to his team.
“They climbed the south face of it, which is a steep rocky, exposed ridge and they thought it was pretty scary — dreadful,” McGee said. “So they came up with the name Gorgon — that’s derived from the Greek word gorgos — which means grim or dreadful.“
The Sun Storm Peak idea was scrapped. An application for Gorgon Spire was filed in its place. The state’s Historical Commission is now canvassing local governments, Alaska Native tribes and the general public to seek comment through the end of June.
Only then, Antonson says, will it be forwarded to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for consideration.
“It’s actually their action that makes the name official for federal maps,” she noted. “The federal government makes most of the maps that are used for the USGS. ”
The application is one of two name applications in Southeast Alaska that the commission is reviewing. It’s also considering a request to change the name of Saginaw Bay near Kake.
Kake’s tribal government seeks to change it back to its traditional name: Skanax Bay. The water body was named for a 19th century U.S. warship that bombarded Tlingit villages in a series of reprisals in the so-called Kake War.
“There’s a lot in a name of a place,” Antonson said.
Comments on the Gorgon Spire application can be submitted to the Alaska Historical Commission through June 30.
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