What’s In A Name – Mt. Benet And An Avalanche(correction 10-23)
This summer I had an interesting conversation with a lady from Canada researching her grandfather who lived in Valdez in the 1900’s. He crossed the glacier a few times. Later he operated the local sawmill whose remnants are still visible poking out of alder just to the east of the bike trail across from the road to Old Town off the Richardson Highway. I was able to help her locate it and she was excited about that.
I asked her about the name “Benet”. I had some knowledge of the peak name since my earliest years in Valdez. As the highest peak visible from Valdez, it has significance. So after a conversation with her I can relate the story of Dr. Benet. It also bears to mention that Nancy Lethcoe’s books mention the deadly avalanche.
Her grandfather was on an expedition across the glacier led by a Mr. Logan during the winter of 1902. As they traveled on the Valdez Glacier the party was hit by an avalanche. Four members of the party were killed and a few injured. Dr. Benet, the practicing physician in Valdez at the time headed up the glacier for the body recovery. Fortunately horses were used on the glacier at the time so that helped with logistics.
No doubt the community owed Dr. Benet a heap of profound gratitude not only for that effort but the care he gave Valdezeans during what must have been a brutal existence on the outwash of the Valdez Glacier.
Mr. Logan survived and aided with the rescue. Logan Peak was named after him and located along the Valdez Glacier near the Klutina. It’s not hard to fathom that it is also the peak that produced the avalanche.
While East and West Peak were definitive peaks for navigation, Mt. Benet was named for a hero of the times. Like many of the common names of peaks and places, histories are lost and significance of events surrounding a particular peak may be lost on future generations. Mt. Dimond is another example of a name misspelled, yet named after a prominent Alaskan. The topo’s of Alaska do not indicate Mt. Benet which is probably an oversight by USGS as they made the first series of topos in the 1960’s after the field work of Neilson and Austin Post(Austin Canyon-Worthington Glacier). Mt. Logan does appears on the topos along with names of miners and geologist for various peaks and features. Neilson, who is perhaps the biggest Chugach peak bagger of all times does not have any summits named for his dedication and work for the USGS.
As far as mountaineering. John Weiland, Bob Shelton and Max Bennet are credited to have made the “first ascent” during a summer in the early 80’s via Camicia Creek. The following year Brian Teale and Chris Blatter were successful At the time you crossed the Valdez Glacier to get to the creek. Sam Owen and I billygoated and skied the lower part of that route taking on the north face direct from the canyon, but fell well short of the summit a number of years ago. Aaron Brown is credited with the first ski descent by fair mean via long way and the Camicia Glacier a few years ago.
As a mountain community we can take great pride in our alpine setting along with the history and events it created. From the miners of the 1900’s, through the mapping of Alaska, the first ski explorations of the 1980’s and to the modern era of mountain exploration and skiing, place names add value to those experiences. In the case of Mt. Benet, it can also remind us of the fragility of our existence in the Chugach.
(correction – First Ski Descent – Aaron Brown(Valdez)