The First Americans through Keystone Canyon
After two military scouting trips failed to find an icefree route through the Chugach
Mountains, the honor fell to a hospital steward, John Cleave, to lead the first footparty
through Keystone Canyon. Cleave, Heiden and Studt had all been on Brookfield's trip.
They left Valdez on June 10th traveling light with minimal equipment and food. To
avoid the precipitous cliffs and steep, brush-covered hillside above Keystone Canyon,
they chose a route high on the ridge.
Fifteen days later, on June 25th Cleave's party reached Sheep Creek. They had found
the first, ice-free route through Keystone Canyon. Because they had no ax to fall
a tree across the river, their scouting trip almost ended here. But three Dutchmen,
who were prospecting in the area, told them were they had put two logs across the river
and gave them some food.
Excited by their discovery and hoping to find a good route to Copper Center, the party
continued. However, instead of choosing the pass that veered north, they headed east
over a pass leading to the Tasnuna. If they had gone north, they would have discovered Thompson Pass and the route to Copper Center, but by going across Marshall Pass,
they reached the Copper River below Wood's Canyon area, many miles south of Copper
Center. Again, they had failed to find a passable landroute from coastal to interior
But little by little, the men of the Copper River Exploring Party were getting closer.
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