Today In History: Denali Climbed For First Time
Denali, previously named Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain peak in North America. Today in 1913, an Alaskan missionary named Hudson Stuck led the first successful expedition to its top.
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 and for establishing multiple Christian schools in Alaska.
In addition to his religious work, he was also an amateur mountain climber. He launched the McKinley expedition in March of 1913, consisting of Stuck 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 destroyed a large portion of their food supply, as well as important 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.
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.
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. Sometimes, that accomplishment comes at a high price. Over 100 people have died trying to climb it.