Juneau icefield researchers resurrect ‘Gorgon Spire’ — a name nearly lost in obscurity

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 Juneau Icefield Research Program)

An unnamed peak in the Juneau Icefield may get a cool-sounding name dreamed 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 Scott McGee, a faculty member with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, a research group that’s studied the area’s glaciers since the 1940s.

McGee 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 said 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 Alaska 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 said, 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 (U.S. Geological Survey).”

Comments on the Gorgon Spire application can be submitted to the Alaska Historical Commission through June 30.

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