• pond surrounded by green brush, reflecting a distant range of snow-covered mountains that are dominated by one massive mountain

    Denali

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Digital Exhibits

Logo for "First Ascent of Denali"

"Anyone who thinks that the climbing of Denali is a picnic is badly mistaken." -- Hudson Stuck

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On June 7, 1913, four men stood on the top of Mount McKinley, or Denali as it was called by the native Koyukon Athabaskans, for the first time. By achieving the summit of the highest peak in North America, Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck and Robert Tatum made history. One of the party, Harry Karstens, would continue to have an association with the mountain and the land around it by becoming the first superintendent of the fledgling Mount McKinley National Park, which would be renamed Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.
 
A historic black and white photograph of a wooden thermometer with the name "Stuck"
carved into it.
This is a composite image showing both the front and back sides of a historic thermometer that Hudson Stuck used to record weather data during the 1913 climb of Mount McKinley. It was recovered near the summit decades later by a later expedition.
 
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Read a brief account of the 1913 climb by accomplished local author and historian Tom Walker. A version of the piece appears in the summer 2013 edition of the park's visitor guide, the Alpenglow.


 

 

 

 

 
Harry Karstens

Harry Karstens, later in life

The University of Alaska Fairbanks hosts a Denali Mountaineering page of oral history interviews as part of Project Jukebox. More than 40 conversations, most recorded more than a dozen years ago, are available online. Here are links to several segments that relate to the 1913 expedition, and the significant challenge that reaching the summit of Mount McKinley represents for climbers even today.

  • Mike Sfraga talks with Eugene Karstens on June 24, 1992 about his father Harry Karstens and the 1913 climb to the summit (Running time 21:46)
  • Bradford Washburn talks with Dave Krupa on July 8, 2000 about how rugged the mountain can be. (Running time 03:07)
  • James Wickwire talks with Dave Krupa on May 9, 2000 about how the scale of the mountain, and its distance from equator, make it a greater challenge than mountains at other latitudes (Running time 03:26)
  • Bob Gerhard talks with Dave Krupa on June 23, 2000 about how even experienced climbers need to maintain a healthy respect for the mountain (Running time 03:24)
  • Daryl R. Miller talks with Dave Krupa on April 27, 2000 about mountaineering rescues, and quotes Hudson Stuck, "Everything is okay when it's 50-below as long as everything is okay." (Running time 03:16)
  • Pete Sinclair talks with Dave Krupa on May 8, 2000 about the one moment he remembers best from his climb to the summit. (Running time 02:25)
 

Read a short profile, Superintendent Harry Karstens, from an online version of the McKinley Station Trail Guide.

Did You Know?

snowy landscape and distant snow-covered mountain

Recent climate warming has affected Denali in ways that are readily apparent, such as reduced spring snowfall, earlier snowmelt, earlier green-up and thawing of permanent snowfields. Subarctic ecosystems, like Denali, are extremely sensitive to climate variability and change.