Today in 1913, an expedition led by an Alaskan missionary named Hudson Stuck became the first to ever successfully climb Mt. McKinley, America’s tallest mountain at 20,320 feet.
Stuck was British-born, moving to North America and then becoming the archdeacon of an Episcopal Church in Yukon, Alaska in 1905. He was known for traveling to remote Native villages to proselytize. He also established multiple Christian schools in Alaska.
Stuck, in addition to his religious work, was also an amateur mountain climber. He launched the McKinley expedition in March of 1913. The party consisted of Stuck as leader and three others. He was joined by Harry Karster, co-leader, Walter Harper and Robert Tatum.
As could be guessed, the trip to the mountaintop was fraught with difficulty. An already daunting task was made even more challenging by inclement weather. While climbing, a fire that broke out in their camp also destroyed a large portion of their food supply, as well as mountaineering equipment.
The group pressed on despite the setbacks. They eventually reached McKinley’s south peak on June 7. Harper was the first person to walk on the mountain’s summit, followed shortly by the other members of the expedition.
McKinley has had many names. It is sometimes called by its Athabascan name, Denali, which translates as “The High One.” This was Stuck’s preferred name. White settlers named it Densmore’s Peak in 1889, after Frank Densmore, a prospector. It was renamed Mt. McKinley in 1896, after then-Senator William McKinley. Later that same year, McKinley would be elected president.
In 1917, the federal government established Mount McKinley National Park as a wildlife refuge, superintended by Harry Karstens. Its borders were expanded in 1980. The park was also renamed Denali National Park and Preserve.
Denali National Park and Preserve is enormous, approximately 6 million acres in size.
Stuck died in 1920, still in Alaska. Many, many people have followed in his party’s footsteps. About a thousand people attempt to reach Denali’s summit every year, with about just over half of them returning successful in the endeavor, smiling and giving thumbs up, if they didn’t lose their thumbs.
Denali is not the largest mountain in the world, but climbing it is a huge accomplishment for people who are into mountainclimbing. Sometimes, that accomplishment comes at a high price. Over 100 people have died trying to climb it. Which begs the question – why climb the mountain? “Because it’s there,” advocates respond. Which then begs the question, “Okay but, really, why climb the mountain?”