When coming up with a name for a mountain with a gnarly south side in the middle of the Juneau Icefield, past mountaineers wanted a name to reflect its treacherous nature.
Exposed rocks and steep cliffs on the south face of the peak makes any climb of it a risky endeavor.
Juneau Icefield Research Program members in 1969 named it “Gorgon Spire” after the Greek word “gorgos,” which means grim or dreadful.
Now, 50 years later, JIRP faculty member Scott McGee is trying to make that name stick. In February, McGee submitted a geographic name proposal for the peak located 35 miles north of Juneau to the Alaska Historical Commission.
“We’re doing it primarily just to document some of the historical activity that’s taking place on the icefield,” McGee said.
McGee said he was ready to submit a different name (“Sun Storm”) to the commission when he came across records indicating the mountain already had a name: Gorgon Spire.
“Back in the early days of JIRP, those guys back then were going all over the icefield and climbing all sorts of things,” McGee said by phone on Thursday morning. “So they would could up with their own little official names. They documented some of the place names and got some of the peaks that they climbed officially named. But a lot of the others peaks that they climbed and explored, they just gave unofficial names to and it was never made official with an actual place name recognized by the federal government.”
It wasn’t until old copies surfaced of the Alpine Journal and American Alpine Journal that the name “Gorgon Spire” was discovered.
“Even to us JIRPers that have been with the program for a long time, a lot of these place names that they came up with back then are sort of lost to history because they didn’t really document these things really well in writing,” McGee said.
Jo Antonson is the deputy state historic preservation officer, and helps get the word out regarding any geographic name proposal. Antonson said after public comment period — which is taking place now through the end of June for Gorgon Spire — the Alaska Historical Commission reviews it and decides whether to submit it to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
Antonson said there’s typically 15 new proposals that come in annually. If all goes according to plan, the process from proposal to official name takes about six months.
“If it’s going to be there for many years, it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow,” Antonson said.
To object to or to endorse the proposed name, email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 30.