The First Ascent of Denali: Chasing the Legacy

Deanli in fall

By Theresa Bakker

Angela Linn, ’99, wears bright purple gloves so she can handle the century-old artifacts without leaving any fingerprints. She opens the flat FedEx box and removes the documents, carefully preserving each layer of protective wrapping until she comes to a black, hardbound book with the words on the cover handwritten in an almost ghostly white — Journal of Archdeacon Hudson Stuck Recording Ascent of Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley), June 1913.

Hudson Stuck.
Hudson Stuck.

Stuck had kept a faithful accounting of that year, important to history because it included the culmination of his dream to climb the highest peak in North America in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Episcopal Church in Alaska. But this book did not include any entries from the critical last days of the climb. Stuck left the heavy book at the 10,800-foot camp. For his impressions of the final push to the top of McKinley, Stuck had kept a second journal, a slim pad about the size of a reporter’s notebook.

“This is what I’d been waiting for,” Linn says. “I had read Stuck’s 1913 diary, so it was familiar to me. But I was truly excited to receive the smaller journal. That diary had never been scanned.”

Stuck’s 1914 book, The Ascent of Denali, is the official record of the climb. It’s what historians refer to when they discuss the details. It’s how the four climbers are remembered. Now for the first time, Linn was able to compare the book to the original journal and learn about the personal experiences of Stuck.

That’s why Linn wanted to have all four of the journals kept by the men who reached the summit of McKinley during that 1913 expedition. She imagined displaying them together — for the first time in 100 years — as part of the UA Museum of the North’s special exhibit, “Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain.”

Stuck’s journals had been archived by the American Geographical Society since 1922. Linn managed to track down the rest of them at various archives. The tiny diary kept by Harry Karstens arrived next, from the American Alpine Club library. Karstens went on to become the first superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park (now known as Denali National Park and Preserve).

Tatum’s journal, dated June 7, 1913: “Today stands a big red letter in my life.”  UAF photo by Theresa Bakker.
Tatum’s journal, dated June 7, 1913: “Today stands a big red letter in my life.” UAF photo by Theresa Bakker.