Future mountain climber Joe Pat Wiley was voted wittiest, along with classmate Sarah Gregory, in his 1954 graduating class.

Not every Hartsville native has the opportunity to scale North America’s highest peak, but Joe Pat Wiley had the opportunity and took it.

In 1972, Joe lived in Anchorage, Alaska, which in turn led to his chance to do a little mountain climbing, a far cry from the cow pastures of his youth in the Walnut Grove community of Trousdale County.

Joe was the son of Robbie Draper Wiley, who taught school in the area. A widow, Robbie will be remembered for her years teaching at the elementary school.

Joe had a brother, Tom Wiley. His uncle was Brown Draper, the agriculture teacher at the high school.

Joe graduated from Trousdale County High School in 1954.

However, Joe’s path in life took him to the 49th state, where he was employed as a manager at a large grocery store. He was also involved with his new community and took part in the town’s annual cancer crusade fund drive.

In fact, Joe ended up being the state chairman for the event.

By the way, we need to mention that Joe had never done any mountain climbing in his life, unless you call climbing he hill to the old high school campus on Damascus Avenue mountain climbing.

As chairman of fundraising for the worthy charity, Joe got a phone call from Don Hoff, a seasoned climber. Hoff had planned an assault on Mt. McKinley a few miles up the road from Anchorage, which is challenging even for professionals, and wanted to know if there was any way his climb could be used to help raise funds.

The tallest mountain in North America, it had been named for President William McKinley. It has recently been renamed Denali, its original native name, meaning “the high one.”

Thinking big was appropriate for such a climb, and seeing a parallel to the team effort of fundraising and the team effort of scaling a large mountain,

Joe signed on to the expedition.

And, how would they raise money with their climb?

Wiley decided to carry small Alaska state flags to the top with him.

After the climb, the flags would then be attached to a nice plaque with a photo of Mt. McKinley and a photo of the mountain-climbing team and the plaques given to people who had donated $100 … that’s 100 in 1972 dollars.

The town’s mayor got on board with the effort and reminded Wiley that the U.S. Post Office had just released a new stamp featuring the mountain. Could he carry a few stamps to the mountain top as well?

The stamps could then be sold to stamp collectors at a premium price.

When announced, the 50 flags and their plaques sold out, and the 500 stamps that Joe planned to carry were being advertised and presold for $35 each.

Of course, that was the easy part. Now came the hard part … climbing a 20,310-foot-tall mountain.

Wiley told a reporter at the time, “I was too dumb to realize the dangers.” It was, he would tell family, the greatest physical endurance test of his life and also his greatest adventure.

Joe had to buy mountain-climbing equipment, such as a parka — or winter coat — designed to withstand temperatures down to minus-30 degrees, long underwear and mountain-climbing boots. Plus, he purchased a winter sleeping bag, ropes and crampons, which are metal spikes to wear with his boots to grip the icy slopes up the steep mountain.

The climb began at a base camp on a glacier 7,000 feet above sea level, after flying in on a small plane. There they met the other members of the team, all seasoned climbers and several from foreign countries.

Undaunted, Wiley and Hoff joined right in and made a successful climb, reaching the top on May 29, 1972.

In his interview afterwards, Joe gave some details of how challenging the climb had been, saying, “Well, it was more dangerous than I anticipated … coming down, we had altitude sickness to some degree. We slid down a sheer ice wall. I still have the rope scars on my stomach. Two of the climbers who fell with us had to be evacuated, one had a concussion and the other assorted injuries.”

He then added, “I fell into a crevasse … almost everybody else did at one time or another, too.”

When asked if he would do it again, Joe said, “I’d have to give another climb a lot of thought.”

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