June 03, 2013

Athabascan first to climb Denali

100 Years After Historic Denali Climb, Descendants Do It Again

By Kevin TaylorIt’s on for June. Family reunion at 20,000 feet. Don’t forget the axes, the rope—and the documentary guy.

At the summit of Denali this summer, blood descendants of the first climbing party to stand atop North America’s highest mountain are hoping to mark the 100-year anniversary by retracing the original route, ascending 20,320 feet.

The original climb a century ago was a feat powered in part by young Alaska Natives, and one of the aims of this year’s effort is to inspire Native youth through interactivity and live-blogging during the climb.

Walter Harper, a strong young Athabascan Indian, was the first person to reach the summit on June 7, 1913, in a party organized by Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens. Here is how Stuck wrote of the moment in Scribner’s Magazine of November 1913: “Walter, who had been in the lead all day, was the first to scramble up: a Alaska Natives, he is the first human being to set foot upon the summit of Alaska’s great mountain and he had well earned the lifelong distinction.”

Although the honor has faded over time—these climbers are far less well-known than Sir Edmund Hillary, for instance—the ascent was long and arduous, as they navigated slopes covered with ice blocks jumbled by an earthquake, and coped with a devastating fire on the mountain that destroyed quite a bit of gear.
Comment:  For more on a related subject, see Peary's Inuit Family and Friends.

Below:  "Top: Stuck, left, and Karstens; bottom, from left: Tatum, George, Karstens, Fredson, Harper."

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