The Ascent of Denali

Originally published in 1914, this book is meticulously documented throughout it's 188 pages, 34 photos and the map showing the route taken in the ascent. The opening plea of the author is for the restoration of the native name of "Denali- the great one."

Hudson Stuck resolved to attempt the ascent some 1 1/2 years prior to the adventure and the planning began. Supplies were cached during the summer of 1912, some 50 miles from the mountain. Their plans to begin the climb the 1st of March 1913 were delayed two weeks and they finally set out on Saint Patrick's Day from Nenana. The summit of Denali was reached at 1:30 PM on the 7th of June, 1913 where the temperature was 7 degrees in a brisk north wind. The party of four; Hudson Stuck, Harry P. Karstens, Robert G. Tatum and Walter Harper, left the summit at 3:02 PM and arrived back at the base camp on the 9th of June. The expedition ended on the 20th of June 1913 as they arrived at Tanana, some 3 months and 4 days after it was begun.

To understand and appreciate what actually transpired during this historic event, one must read and savor the account that Hudson Stuck so carefully recorded. The following is of particular interest to those who would desire to understand the character of Walter Harper better.

Of Walter Harper he says "Indian-bred until his sixteenth year, and up to that time trained in not much else than Henry of Navarre's training, 'to shoot straight, to speak the truth; to do with little food and less sleep' (though equal to an abundance of both on occasion), who joyed in the heights as a mountain-sheep or a chamois, and whose sturdy limbs and broad shoulders were never weary or unwilling."

The beginning days of the climb were held up by the late spring weather. " The tedium of lying in that camp while snowstorm or fierce, high wind forbade adventure upon the splintered ridge was not so great to the writer as to some of the other members of the expedition, for there was always Walter's education to be prosecuted, as it had been prosecuted for three winters on the trail and three summer on the launch, in a desultory but not altogether unsuccessful manner. An hour or two spent in writing from dictation, another hour or two in reading aloud, a little geography and a little history and a little physics made the day pass busily. A pupil is a great resource."

"The Ultimate Height:...At supper Walter had made a desperate effort to use some of our ten pounds of flour in the manufacture of 'noodles' with which to thicken the stew. We had continued to pack that flour and had made effort after effort to cook it in some eatable way, but without success. The sour dough would not ferment, and we had no baking-powder. Is there any way to cook flour under such circumstances? But he made the noodles too large and did not cook them enough, and they wrought internal havoc upon those who partook of them. Three of the four of us were unwell all night... Walter alone was at ease, with digestive and somnolent capabilities proof against any invasion. The next morning Walter was the only one feeling entirely himself, so Walter was put in the lead and in the lead he remained all day."

"We took a straight course up the great snow ridge. Our progress was exceedingly slow. It was bitterly cold. Within the writer's No. 16 moccasins were three pairs of heavy hand-knitted woollen socks, two pairs of camel's-hair socks, and a pair of thick felt socks; while underneath them, between them and the iron 'creepers', were the soles cut from a pair of felt shoes. There can be no possible question that cold is felt much more keenly in the thin air of nineteen thousand feet than it is below. The writer's shortness of breath became more and more distressing as he rose. Walter had noticed the writer's growing discomfort and had insisted upon assuming the mercurial barometer. The boy's eager kindness was gladly accepted and the instrument was surrendered. The climbing grew steeper and steeper. At last the crest of the ridge was reached...but still there stretched ahead of us and perhaps one hundred feet above us, another small ridge with a north and south pair of little haycock summits. This is the real top of Denali. With keen excitement we pushed on."

"Walter, who had been in the lead all day, was the first to scramble up; a native Alaskan, he is the first human being to set foot upon the top of Alaska's great mountain, and he had well earned the lifelong distinction."

"...When the mercurial barometer had been read, the tent was thrown down and abandoned. The tent-pole was used for a moment as a flagstaff while Tatum hoisted a little United States flag he had patiently and skilfully constructed in our camps below out of two silk handkershief and the cover of a sewing-bag. Then the pole was put to its permanent use. It had already been carved with a suitable inscription, and now a transverse piece, already prepared and fitted, was lashed securely to it and it was planted on one of the little snow turrets of the summit -- the sign of our redemption, high above North America. Only some peaks in the Andes and some peaks in the Himalayas rise above it in all the world. It was of light, dry birch and, though six feet in length, so slender that we think it may weather many a gale. And Walter thrust it into the snow so firmly at a blow that it could not be withdrawn again. Then we gathered about it and said the Te Deum."

"Before the reader turns his back upon the Grand Basin once for all, I should like to put a name upon the glacier it contains - since it is the fashion to name glaciers. I should like to call it the Harper Glacier, after my half-breed companion of three years, who was the first human being to reach the summit of the mountain. This reason might suffice, but there is another and most interesting reason for associating the name Harper with this mountain. Arthur Harper, Walter's father, the pioneer of all Alaskan miners, 'the first man who thought of trying the Yukon as a mining field so far as we know,' was also the first man to make written reference to this mountain, since Vancouver, the great navigator, saw it from the head of Cook's Inlet in 1794. Arthur Harper, in company with Al Mayo, made the earliest exploration of the Tanana River, ascending that stream in the summer of 1878 to about the present site of Fairbanks; and in a letter the following winter concerning the 'great ice mountain to the south' as one of the most wonderful sights of the trip. It is pleasant to think that a son of his, yet unborn, was to be the first to set foot on its top; pleasantly also the office of setting his name upon the lofty glacier, the gleam from which caught his eye and roused his wonder thirty years ago, fall upon one who has been glad and proud to take, in some measure, his place."

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