First Ascent of Denali
First Summit

On June 7, 1913, the first men set foot on the roof of North America. Walter Harper, an Athabascan from Interior Alaska, became the first climber to reach the summit of 20,320-foot Denali, the tallest point on the continent. Fellow climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens and Robert Tatum closely followed him.  Although they did not summit, teenagers Esaias George and John Fredson were key contributors to the expedition.

Harper was given the honor of taking the first steps on the top because of his Native heritage. A ridge was later named for Karstens. Stuck wrote a book about the climb called “The Ascent of Denali.” Although officially called “McKinley” on maps until 2015, Alaskans commonly referred to the mountain as “Denali,” translated from local Native languages as “The High One.”

The expedition conquered the peak after a long approach from the north. No one else made the ascent for nearly 20 years. Only when it was determined in 1951 the shorter way to the top was by another route did Denali begin to attract new attention. Fresh generations of mountaineers attempt the mountain every year, but the expedition led by Stuck and Karstens lives on in the hearts of climbers for its pioneering achievement.

– Lew Freedman