Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Wrong remains find final resting place at peak of Mount Sinclair


July 29, 2021

Ceri Godinez

Climbers affix gear after scaling Mt. Sinclair during a trip that included the deposit of ashes infused in a glass bead.

When John Svenson learned fellow climbers would be ascending Mount Sinclair, a 6,800 foot peak opposite Mud Bay, he asked them to bring his friend's remains, in the form of ashes infused in a glass bead, to the peak as a final resting place. But after a last-minute mix up, Svenson's parents' ashes ended up on the summit instead.

"I'm happier in a way," Svenson told the CVN in an interview Tuesday. "My dad had quite a history in Haines. He always looked up at Sinclair and said, 'That's really cool.'"

Svenson thought he had given the four climbers-Harry Subertas, Brady McGuire, Ceri Godinez and Kris Wuesthoff-the glass bead containing his friend before they kayaked to the base of the peak on July 16.

"This is my friend, who died in a mountaineering accident," Svenson told the group. "He always wanted to go up Sinclair but never made it. If you guys took his ashes up, that'd be super cool."

He handed them a small plastic bag labeled "Bob" containing a large glass bead with the ashes of the friend who died in a 1972 rockfall in the Washington Cascades. Svenson and the man knew each other from climbing in Yosemite in the 1960's and early '70s.

Perfect weather conditions led to a smooth ascent of Sinclair-minus a rope stuck on rappel and an unplanned overnight in the woods. At the summit, Subertas took a video as he placed the bead in a small crevice. He sent the video to Svenson.

Svenson said that's when he realized, from the bead's style, that those weren't his friend's ashes. They belonged to his mother and father, John and Lou Ann Svenson.

Svenson said his father had wanted his ashes scattered on Denali but "didn't die in time" to accompany Svenson on one of his trips up the mountain. Svenson's mother's ashes are scattered around the globe. In addition to resting atop Sinclair, they've been placed in a penguin nest off the coast of Antarctica, and mixed in a hamburger patty and fed to a lion on the Serengeti.

Svenson said he can't really explain the ash mix up. Deciding to entrust his friend's ashes to the four climbers was a last-minute decision. Svenson has a lot of ash-infused glass beads in his workshop and was moving quickly.

He said he no longer remembers who sent him the ashes or why his friend wanted them placed on Sinclair.

He also doesn't know where his friend's ashes are now.

"I'm not sure where his ashes are. I end up with these bins full of beads-dogs, cats, humans-I try to keep the species separate, at least," Svenson said, adding, "I hope it is my mom and dad up there."

He said it's possible he'll find the ashes, but more than likely, he'll fling them into the Lynn Canal on some future fishing trip, the fate of many unidentified beads in his workshop.

"People send me ashes for beads, and I end up with leftover ashes. I ask people what should I do, and they say, 'Hang onto them and spread them around,'" Svenson said. "(The Lynn Canal) beats the rose garden or the potato patch."


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