Historic Resource Study
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The Kantishna gold rush of 1905 had come and gone by the time Doctor Cook's summit story hit the papers in 1906. Of the thousands who had followed Judge Wickersham to the Kantishna Hills only about 50 hard-core prospectors and miners remained, centered on the streams flowing into Moose Creek. These men were seasoned veterans who had taken over the best claims and were prepared for years of mine-development toil. Easy surface gold had been quickly exhausted; illusions of quick riches and those who held them had departed.

On the fringes of the isolated mining camps that year of 1906 roamed two other men important to this history, Harry Karstens and Charles Sheldon. Karstens was a bona fide Sourdough: Klondike stampeder, Seventymile River miner and cofounder of the nearby town of Eagle on the upper Yukon, and, lately, dog-team mail driver for the Kantishna camps. Sheldon himself was no stranger to Alaska and the Yukon country. A man of independent wealth, this distinguished member of the Eastern establishment combined the joy of the hunt with the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the collection of specimens for the scientific and museum communities. His special interest in the various species of the North American mountain sheep had drawn him northward from Mexico, through the Rockies, and on to British Columbia. Now he sought definitive knowledge of the life history of Alaska's white sheep, Ovis dali. After extended tracking of these sheep along the Alaskan-Canadian borderlands, he came to the Denali region in the summer of 1906, accompanied by Harry Karstens. Of his guide and friend Sheldon stated:

. . .I recall no better fortune than that which befell me when Harry Karstens was engaged as assistant packer. . . . He is a tall, stalwart man, well poised, frank, and strictly honorable. One of the best dog drivers in the north, and peculiarly fitted by youth and experience for explorations in little-known regions, he proved a most efficient and congenial companion. [24]

For this cast now assembled on the north side of Denali's vast stage, the mountain and its approaches became a matter of daily experience. On clear days the miners, aware of the Wickersham and Cook climbing attempts, glassed the peak from highpoints in the Kantishna Hills. They speculated on the lay of the land and from their various observation points spotted glacial trenches and bordering ridges that might lead through the topographical maze toward the domed summit. From the Toklat area they saw that an upper basin sloped down from the top of the mountain.

During Sheldon's 1906-08 rambles on the piedmont plateau and foothills bordering the mountain massif, he had traced the lower course of Muldrow Glacier. He also spotted the icefall and ridges that led to the upper basin just below McKinley's two peaks. Sheldon became acquainted with miners Tom Lloyd and his partners, whose mining claims on a high ridge above Lloyd's cabin at the head of Glen Creek offered unexcelled views of Mount McKinley. From that ridge one day in January 1908, Sheldon and Lloyd viewed the mountain and Sheldon told of its double summit, North Peak and South Peak, and of the high glacier and icefalls descending from the basin between them. Sheldon believed that one of the ridges alongside that high glacier would give access to the top, as indeed one would 2 years later. As yet, no one knew the entire winding course of Muldrow Glacier—hidden by intervening ridges and mountains—which would soon serve as the broad avenue leading to the upper elevations and the peaks. [25]

The miners of Kantishna and their friends in Fairbanks shared in the skepticism bred by Doctor Cook's tale of whirlwind ascent. They knew the scale of the mountain. They believed that Alaskans, hardy men like themselves, should be the fittest and the first to scale McKinley's heights, not Outsiders who visited for a summer. The challenge galvanized Fairbanks. Backers and bettors urged the project along. Thus outfitted and assured prizes and glory, Tom Lloyd and his partners—Charley McGonagall, Billy Taylor, and Pete Anderson—left Fairbanks with dogs, horses, and a mule in late December 1909, en route to Denali's north flank. By early March 1910, after supply relays, establishment of a base camp at timberline near one of A.H. Brooks' old camps, and discovery of Glacier (now McGonagall) Pass, which accessed middle Muldrow Glacier, the reach for higher elevations began. Intermediate camps along the glacier led to the Sourdoughs' highest camp near the head of Muldrow at 11,000 feet. This was the highest point reached by the overweight Lloyd. But the three younger and stronger men-McGonagall, Anderson, and Taylor-set out for the top early on April 3 hauling a 14-foot-long spruce pole and a flag, which, emplanted on the peak, would prove their conquest. They pioneered the route via Karstens Ridge around the Harper Icefall to the upper basin, then struggled up Sourdough Gully to Pioneer Ridge. Somewhere around 18,000 or 19,000 feet the older McGonagall dropped out. His job was to get the pole within striking distance. He did that, and there was no reason to go any further, he later stated, because Pete and Billy were skookum and didn't need any more help from him. So Anderson and Taylor went up the last hard ridge and planted their flag in a rock outcrop just below the North Peak summit.

Sourdough Expedition
Members of the 1909-1910 Sourdough Expedition were (left to right): Charley McGonagall, Pete Anderson, Tom Lloyd (seated), and Billy Taylor. Francis P. Farquhar Collection, UAF

According to later interview accounts from Taylor and McGonagall, their objective was to place the flag where it might be seen by telescope from Fairbanks. As they saw it, the peaks looked about the same height, but the South Peak could not be seen from Fairbanks.

Both contemporary and modern climbers have viewed with awe the amazing accomplishment of the Sourdoughs. Starting from their 11,000-foot camp, the 18-hour ascent and return, during which the pioneers negotiated some 8,500 feet of vertical rise over a route they discovered as they climbed, would tax the best climbers of any age. These miners were novice mountaineers with rudimentary, improvised equipment, wearing bib overalls, longjohns, and unlined parkas, and carrying a bag of doughnuts and a thermos of hot chocolate for provisions. But they were tough (as well as very lucky with the weather) and they proved the point that real Alaskans could climb that mountain if they set their minds to it. Aside from the sheer physical prowess of the Sourdoughs, the route they pioneered through McGonagall Pass, up the Muldrow, and around Harper Icefall via Karstens Ridge stood for more than 40 years as the only climbing route to McKinley's summit. Unfortunately Lloyd—first to return to Fair banks—would claim that all four Sourdoughs reached the top. This tale clouded the party's real achievement, briefly relegating it to another Cook-like fantasy. But 3 years later the Karstens-Stuck party sighted the flagpole, and later interviews with Billy Taylor and Charley McGonagall distilled the truth from Lloyd's fictions. [26]

The Parker-Browne expedition of 1912 was the first serious and technically competent effort by skilled alpinists to climb Mount McKinley. From their previous experiences—on the south flank with Cook in 1906 and in the east-side Ruth Glacier maze in 1910—plus their awareness of the 1903 failures on the western side, Parker and Browne were convinced that the northern approach via Muldrow Glacier offered the best chance for success. Moreover, knowing the scale of the country and the time required to complete logistical preparations for a serious assault, they determined on a winter approach march. They would in effect, two-stage their expedition: first, the long march from the coast, with establishment of a base camp on the piedmont plateau, then the climb itself.

Wishing to explore the Alaska Range northwest of McKinley, Parker and Browne set their course in late January from the port of Seward to Susitna Station via Knik arm. Continuing their mushing with dog teams they ascended the Susitna Valley and followed up the Chulitna River to the then unnamed Ohio Creek. At its head they crossed the range over glaciers and icefields, and finally, after 17 days on the ice, debouched at the lower curve of Muldrow Glacier. Thence they proceeded down Muldrow and cross-country to Clearwater Creek. In late April they established base camp on Cache Creek within easy reach of McGonagall Pass.

Though the Sourdoughs had come this same way, Browne did not know their precise route. His intensive study of McKinley's northeastern face set the climbing route and the approach to higher elevations. His probes through the blocking foothills led him up Cache Creek and to rediscovery of the pass onto Muldrow Glacier first found by McGonagall in 1910. There, at its midcourse, he tied the Muldrow together from its terminal moraine to the cliffs at its head, under the overhanging Harper Icefall. From various highpoints in the foothills he saw the advantages of yet unnamed Karstens Ridge as the route around that icefall and up into the big basin under the towering peaks. No better example of the logic of terrain could be found than Browne's independent rediscovery of the Sourdough route.

Almost immediately Browne and Parker, aided by Merl La Voy of Seattle, began supply relays with the dogs up Muldrow Glacier. At its head they cached their goods in a tarped and anchored sled at 11,000 feet, near the notch that gave access to Karstens Ridge. By May 8 they were back at base camp, which was run by the fourth, non-climbing member of the party, Arthur Aten of Valdez, Alaska. Then followed several weeks of rest, hunting, and equipment tending as the Denali spring changed the lower elevations into a paradise of flowered meadows, singing birds, and wandering game animals.

Except for a knee injury suffered earlier by La Voy, the three-man party started the big climb on June 5 in good shape. Their equipment was of the best alpine sort, and a balanced menu—based on energy-rich pemmican with a high-fat content—promised good strength to counter the effects of altitude and cold.

The attrition began early with a heavy snowstorm that trapped them on Muldrow for 3 days. Then they waited for avalanches to unload the snow-packed heights before threading the icefall narrows near Muldrow's head. After the excess snow had fallen they went on up to 11,000 feet, finding their sled-cache buried but intact, then climbed up on Karstens Ridge. In a series of exhausting advances and supply relays through deep snow they set up camps and snow shelters every 1,500 to 2,000 feet until reaching their final camp in the big basin at 16,500 feet. Throughout the advance La Voy's knee, reinjured in a crevasse fall, gave him trouble. Browne did double duty in the relay packing, hauling the heavy loads, and in breaking trail. The soft snow tripled their toil, and cold and altitude began sapping the men's energies. Sixty degree slopes overhanging drops of 2,000 to 5,000 feet demanded tight-wire concentration, not aided in the least by bouts of snow blindness and wind squalls that struck laden packers without warning. Slow progress through the snow forced more food relays from a cache nearly a mile below their upper camp. Then the source of their energy, the fatty pemmican, failed them. Beginning at 11,000 feet, the men began getting sick when they ate the pemmican. As they got higher their bodies absolutely refused to metabolize the fat, which became, in effect, a poison. Thus, just as they got set for the final climb, they were reduced to a starvation diet of tea, sugar, raisins, and hardtack. This snack fuel gave little heat and energy. So the daily rebound from toil and cold expected of solid food could not occur. As the climbers weakened under cumulative attrition, normal sleep became impossible, further eroding energies and resistance to cold.

On June 27 Browne and his companions set up their final camp in the big basin. Their frigid hollow grew colder as congealed air flowed down from the upper icefields. To gather themselves they rested for one day in the tent, avoiding exposure and chill, and their spirits came back.

This was the third time that Parker and Browne had tried to climb this mountain. Now, poised at the base of the last big ridge leading toward the shoulder that marked final access to the summit, they could almost see their goal about 3,500 feet above.

Next morning, June 29, they felt good and the weather was clear. The sun began to moderate the stabbing cold. Browne noted in his diary, "There is nothing to stop us except a storm." [27] Leaving camp at 6 a.m. the climbers progressed almost as planned, though they could not meet their goal of 500 feet elevation gain each hour. Then in the lee of the ridge they hit soft snow, further slowing their pace. At nearly 19,000 feet they topped the big ridge and took a break at the base of the last slope to the summit. Browne describes the scene:

We had long dreamed of this moment, because, for the first time, we were able to look down into our [Ruth Glacier] battle-ground of 1910, and see all the glaciers and peaks that we had hobnobbed with in the "old days." But the views looking north-eastward along the Alaskan Range were even more magnificent. We could see the great wilderness of peaks and glaciers spread out below us like a map. On the northern side of the range there was not one cloud; the icy mountains blended into the rolling foothills which in turn melted into the dim blue of the timbered lowlands, that rolled away to the north, growing bluer and bluer until they were lost at the edge of the world. On the humid south side, a sea of clouds was rolling against the main range like surf on a rocky shore. The clouds rose as we watched. At one point a cloud would break through between two guarding peaks; beyond, a second serpentine mass would creep northward along a glacier gap in the range; soon every pass was filled with cloud battalions that joined forces on the northern side, and swept downward like a triumphant army over the northern foothills. It was a striking and impressive illustration of the war the elements are constantly waging along the Alaskan Range. [28]

Above them the way to the summit, whose edge they could plainly see, . . . rose as innocently as a snow-covered tennis court and as we looked it over we grinned with relief—we knew the peak was ours." [29]

But just then the wind picked up and the sky darkened. The storm advancing from the south had found the final heights. In minutes a snow-laden gale enveloped the chambers. Visibility decreased as the blizzard gained force, but if they kept going uphill they must reach the summit. Forced to chop steps on the steeper slopes, their hands began to freeze and blowing ice particles blinded them. Cold now gripped their bodies entire, and they lost time desperately stomping and moving their extremities to keep feeling and life in them. Finally they emerged from a partially sheltering lee for the last few feet of ascent to the summit. In the full force of the wind they felt life ebbing. Browne, in the lead, was less than 200 feet below the summit elevation and only about 200 yards distant from it. At this farthest point of advance he realized that it would be suicidal to proceed. It had taken him several minutes to move only a few feet during his last upward exertions—blind, buffeted, and in places simply hunched in place as the hurricane battered him to a standstill. He turned back to La Voy and Parker and they huddled for a moment in a quickly chopped seat in the ice. But they could feel themselves freezing as they yelled against the wind. Browne screamed, "The game's up; we've got to get down." [30] Professor Parker wanted to go on, volunteering to chop the last steps. But the danger from freezing was now compounded by the packing snow filling their chopped steps and the wind erasing all signs of the trail back to their camp.

Slowly they retreated feeling their way and using the wind to guide them. Had it shifted they would have perished. By great good fortune they found the rocky spine of the ridge bounding the basin. Guided and sheltered by this line of rocks, they struggled to their tent.

Browne had got to the mountain top, halfway between the 20,125-foot summit shoulder and the true summit at 20,320 feet, but not to the very top of the mountain. Indeed, as he lamented, it had been a cruel and heartbreaking day.

Next day they rested and dosed themselves with boracic acid for snow blindness. They packed their rebellious stomachs with as much hardtack and raisins as they could stand. With great difficulty they dried out the frost particles that had penetrated every part of their clothing. Then they tried one more time. Leaving at 3 a.m. they got to the base of the final dome and began its ascent. Again they raced a rising storm. After an hour of vicious wind and blinding snow, they turned and stumbled wordlessly back to their tent. Browne remembered ". . . only a feeling of weakness and dumb despair; we had burned up and lived off our own tissue until we didn't care much what happened!" [31]

After a quick descent with its full share of obstacles and adventures the weary climbers reached their base camp where the faithful Aten awaited them. Rest, food, and recuperation followed. But even in this verdant resort, after a month on the mountain's ice and snow, Alaska's extremes tracked them down. The evening of July 6 grew ominous with heavy air and a sickly green sky. Then a great earthquake struck. The Alaska Range boomed and bellowed, then disappeared into snowy mists as avalanches and icefalls jolted from its cliffs and slopes. Fierce, debris-laden winds swept down from the mountains. The very ground they stood on heaved, split and slid. Streams crested with thick brown water from earth slides.

Later they learned of the great Katmai volcanic eruption on the Alaska Peninsula hundreds of miles to the south, of which this earthquake was an aftermath. Brad Washburn notes that had the pemmican not failed the Parker-Browne party they would have waited out the storms for another summit attempt. High on the unstable mountain ice they would have died without a trace in the earthquake's chaos. [32] (One year later, the Karstens-Stuck expedition would struggle though the vast debris of giant iceblocks that had tumbled from the mountain.)

For 36 hours the aftershocks persisted. Then the Parker-Browne party headed north, via the Kantishna mining camps, to the Yukon and home. [33]

The mountaineering match-up of Sourdough Harry Karstens and Alaska's Episcopal Archdeacon Hudson Stuck produced both tensions and victory. It was an inevitable pairing in Alaska's small and interlocked community. Karstens' exploits of exploration and dog driving, and his 1906-08 expeditions with Charles Sheldon in the Denali country, made him a natural choice for pioneering co-leader when the eminent missionary set his sights on Denali's peak.

In 1904, shortly after coming into the country, Stuck first glimpsed Denali, whose Indian name he always preferred. Smitten with the mountain's beauty and its dominance over the Alaska Range, he determined that one day he would at least stand upon its foothills or ascend its flanks. In time, as Doctor Cook's fraudulent claims and the doubts spawned by Tom Lloyd's overblown story demeaned the mountain's majesty, Stuck vowed to climb it himself. The near success of Parker and Browne in 1912 spurred him on. He believed that starting from Fairbanks—instead of from the coast as they had—he could be successful.

As a traveling missionary through Alaska's Interior and Arctic regions, Hudson Stuck was no stranger to the "strenuous life" that was the ideal of the times. He sledded and boated from village to village establishing missions and schools, and performing annual visits to the more isolated camps of his scattered Native adherents. He admired Native culture and their competence on the land, often clashing with superiors who would divorce Native peoples from their land-based way of life. He had emigrated from England in search of adventure. After divinity school he sought missionary challenge. He found both in Alaska. [34]

An enthusiastic but amateur mountaineer (with experience in the Rockies and Cascades, and a few days climbing in the Alps), he knew that he needed a partner who could lead ". . . . in the face of difficulty and danger." [35] Karstens, a fellow Episcopalian in Fairbanks, fit the bill. [36] Karstens and Sourdough climber Charley McGonagall had once partnered in mail driving and they had worked claims together during the Kantishna gold rush. When Karstens later explored Denali with Charles Sheldon they had jointly studied the access ridge, later to bear Karstens' name, and agreed that it was the key to higher elevations. They even talked of climbing the mountain together. But, to Karstens' everlasting regret, Sheldon returned to the States and marriage, and never came back to Alaska. Stuck knew of the McGonagall-Karstens partnership and their shared knowledge of the route to the top. So it was that the Karstens-Stuck climbing expedition took shape. [37]

As finally assembled, the climbing party comprised the Archdeacon and Karstens as co-leaders (the former as organizer and cook, the latter as trail and climbing leader); robust Walter Harper, Stuck's 21-year-old aide and traveling companion, son of Yukon-Tanana explorer Arthur Harper and an Indian mother; and another able youth, Robert Tatum, a theology student whose recent services to the Episcopal missions included a heroic dog-team supply run to succor isolated mission women on the upper Tanana.

After many delays and frustrations, including non-arrival of previously ordered technical climbing gear—which forced Karstens to improvise critical equipment—the party left Fairbanks in mid-March 1913 by dog team. At the Nenana mission they picked up two teenage Indian lads Esaias and Johnny Fredson, along with another dog team. These young students at the mission school proved invaluable assistants, both of them helping in the supply relays up Muldrow Glacier before Esaias had to return to Nenana, and Johnny remaining as the lonesome base-camp and dog-team keeper during the month-long absence of the climbing party.

Following established trails to the Kantishna mining camps (where final consultations with Sourdough climbers took place), the party broke trail past Wonder Lake, crossed McKinley River, and, on April 4, set up a wood-cutting camp at the last good spruce stand up Clearwater Creek. While wood was being gathered, Karstens went ahead and located the base camp at the forks of Cache Creek, just below McGonagall Pass. After transfer of the wood fuel up Cache Creek and preparation of rich mountain rations from caribou meat and marrow, the company began trailbreaking and supply relays up Muldrow Glacier on April 16.

The success of this pioneering expedition would be based on Karstens' pioneering experience and never-say-die toughness; on the shared knowledge of route and climbing conditions provided by his Sourdough-climb friends as well as Belmore Browne's recently published magazine account; and on the foresight, determination, and improvisational abilities of its members. Native foods in ample supply, locally hunted and processed for mountain transport, plus plenty of fuel and good bedding assured energy-rich nutrition and sleeping comfort throughout a long and storm-assaulted climb. Improved snow-goggles saved them from painful blindness. The climbers were mentally in the struggle for the duration, and they had the physical means to preserve their strength for the final push at high altitude.

Their way was not easy. Because this was no quick dash to the top (they knew they could not count on the Sourdoughs' luck with the weather), the immense physical labor required to assemble and transport equipment, supplies, and wood-fuel (the latter to the 11,000-foot camp) took its toll even in rare good weather. In the prevailing storms these labors were doubled. Storm-bound days confined to camp sapped will and gave rein to frustration. In these conditions even the best of friends get testy. Karstens and Stuck, because of temperament and style clashes, were hardly the best of friends.

Then there was the fire at their Muldrow camp: tents, socks, mitts, food destroyed or damaged. The devastation shook them. The expedition, so well prepared, faced defeat, victim of a stray spark and whipping winds. But Karstens said "Forget it," and the party improvised, making tents from sled covers, socks from Stuck's camel-hair sleeping bag liner, and so on. At one point, with the men sitting around sewing, the camp looked like a sweat shop. Deprived of such luxuries as sugar, powdered milk, and dried fruit—all burned—they still had the basics and they forged on.

Next they took on the access ridge, Karstens Ridge as named by Stuck. The steep and sheer, yet practicable pathway described by Belmore Browne was no more. Rising above them was a primordial shambles. Fringing the 3,000-foot high Harper Icefall, the ridge connected to the high basin formed by Harper Glacier. There was no other way to the final heights. They stared at the shattered ridge in disbelief, even as it dawned on them that the 1912 earthquake had created this chaos. They saw great blocks of ice, bigger than buildings, some the size of city blocks. They leaned, balanced, and honey combed on each other on a thin ridge that fell more than 1,000 feet to Muldrow Glacier and 3,000 feet to its eastern branch, the Traleika.

For 3 weeks, as storms allowed, Karstens and Harper spent most of their time probing through this jumbled nightmare and chopping steps—3 miles of them—out of the concrete-like ice. They avoided the nearly sheer flanking slopes as much as possible, for avalanche danger was great, and the overhanging, unconsolidated blocks of ice balanced in defiance of gravity. In his diary Karstens noted that some of the blocks would fall if someone whispered at them. Stuck and Tatum began supply relays with backpacks as soon as the icy staircase reached flat spots where goods could be cached.

Finally, at 15,000 feet they passed beyond the ridge into the basin, above which rose Denali's great peaks. On June 3, at mid-point on Harper Glacier, Walter Harper spotted the Sourdoughs' flagpole on the North Peak. With the glasses everyone saw it, thus confirming the Taylor-Anderson ascent and McGonagall's hauling of the pole to nearly 19,000 feet.

In deliberate stages the men now advanced from camp to camp, always getting higher and closer to the South Peak. Their last camp at 17,500 feet—almost directly below Denali Pass between the peaks—put them about 1,000 feet higher for the final assault than Parker-Browne had been the year before. This was a critical advantage for 50- year-old Hudson Stuck, who was feeling the altitude much more than the youthful Harper and Tatum and the mid-thirties Karstens. At that they still had nearly 3,000 feet to go vertically. But with all hands reasonably healthy, plenty of food, good bedding, and ample gas fuel for their stove, their objective was attainable.

Next morning, Saturday June 7, came on clear and cold, good weather for the climb. But except for Walter Harper, the men were suffering. For dinner the night before Harper had cooked noodles to thicken the caribou stew; at such altitude and lacking baking powder—also burned—the noodles were a half-done mess that wreaked havoc upon all digestive systems except the chef's. This, plus the last few day's extreme efforts at high altitude and excitement over the next day's climb, had made sleep impossible. Alone with his thoughts in the early hours, huddled over the gas stove, Stuck had stared at failure. All but Walter looked upon the new day with bad stomachs and wracking headaches. Karstens would have stayed in bed except that this was the day of the climb.

After a very light breakfast Karstens assigned the lead to the sturdy Walter, and at 4 a.m., with sun shining, a keen wind, and the thermometer marking minus 4 degrees F., the sorry company followed the indomitable young Indian toward the utmost heights. They carried lunch and scientific-instrument packs only. First they traversed the snow ridge that rose above their camp, then headed toward the final rises that still hid the summit. It was step by gasping step in bitter cold, which, aided by the wind pierced their layered clothing and numbed their heavily clad hands and feet. Stuck relates that Karstens beat his freezing feet so violently against the packed snow that two of his nails later dropped off. On the margin between life and terrible damage or death by freezing, they pushed on. Behind a ridge, partially sheltered from the wind, the ascending sun gave a little warmth. Lunch and a thermos of hot tea helped.

As confidence grew, however, so did altitude. Hudson Stuck's oxygen deficiency nearly overcame him several times. He would black-out, then rest and recover. Walter Harper relieved him of the bulky mercurial barometer that Stuck had insisted on carrying.

At last, with Harper still in the lead and the first man there to stand, they got to the very top. Stuck, on the verge of unconsciousness had to be braced the last few steps by his companions.

After a few moments of recovery the climbers shook hands and gave thanks to an Almighty who seemed very near on this high place. Then the party set up the little instrument tent and began their measurements—temperature, altitude, and others. From later expert calculations of their readings, the mountain's altitude averaged out at 20,700 feet. One of the experts, U.S. Geological Survey topographer C.E. Giffin, figured 20,374 feet above sea level, closest to the true 20,320. [38] (A 1909 Coast and Geodetic Survey observation had placed the altitude at 20,300, only 20 feet off the mark.) [39]

Finally, finished with the obligatory science, the men posed for photographs, which ended up double-exposed due to cold-numbed fingers. Then they looked about them.

Stuck gave thanks for a perfectly clear day in all directions—a rarity that the churchman could attribute only to God's design on the very day of their climb. In this providential moment Hudson Stuck touched the sublime in what he saw and how he described it:

Immediately before us, in the direction in which we had climbed, lay—nothing: a void, a sheer gulf many thousands of feet deep, and one shrank back instinctively from the little parapet of the [summit] snow basin when one had glanced at the awful profundity. Across the gulf . . . sprang most splendidly into view the great mass of Denali's Wife, or Mount Foraker . . . filling majestically all the middle distance.... And never was nobler sight displayed to man than that great, isolated mountain spread out completely, with all its spurs and ridges, its cliffs and its glaciers, lofty and mighty and yet far beneath us. . . . Beyond stretched, blue and vague to the southwest, the wide valley of the Kuskokwim, with an end of all mountains. To the north we looked right over the North Peak to the foot hills below, patched with lakes and lingering snow, glittering with streams. . . .

It was, however, to the south and east that the most marvelous prospect opened before us. What infinite tangle of mountain ranges filled the whole scene, until gray sky, gray mountains, and gray sea merged in the ultimate distance! The near-by peaks and ridges stood out with dazzling distinction, the glaciation, the drainage, the relation of each part to the others all revealed. [40]

In the detachment that he felt from the world below, under the deep blue dome of the stratospheric sky, Hudson Stuck searched is feelings about their attainment:

There was no pride of conquest, no trace of that exultation of victory some enjoy upon the first ascent of a lofty peak, no gloating over good fortune that had hoisted us a few hundred feet higher than others who had struggled and been discomfited. Rather was the feeling that a privileged communion with the high places of the earth had been granted; that not only we had been permitted to lift up eager eyes to these summits, secret and solitary since the world began, but to enter boldly upon them, to take place, as it were, domestically in their hitherto sealed chambers, to inhabit them, and to cast our eyes down from them, seeing all things as they spread out from the windows of heaven itself. [41]

After an hour-and-a-half on the summit the remorseless cold cut contemplation and drove them downward. Next day, from their camp high in the basin, they descended rapidly in good spirits to the 11,000-foot camp on upper Muldrow. On June 9 they reached base camp on Cache Creek.

Young Johnny Fredson had been hearing voices for days as the climbers' absence stretched past the planned 2 weeks to the month that had passed since last farewells at the Muldrow camp. Finally the boy heard real voices and the ghosts became real men, weather beaten and hungry. Roast caribou and sheep greeted them, along with Johnny's share of sugar and milk for coffee, which he had religiously saved for them after theirs was lost in the fire. The well kept dogs joined in the joyful reunion.

From there on out, excepting Tatum's near drowning in McKinley River—dragged down by his pack, pulled out by Karstens—and a series of foundering feeds with miner friends at the Kantishna camps, the return trip was routine. Their cached poling boat, named Getaway by Karstens, took them down the rivers to the town of Tanana, where they arrived June 20, more than 3 months after leaving Fairbanks.

As news of the first complete ascent of Mount McKinley flashed across the country, Cook supporters rallied to dispute this latest first-climb claim, but most everyone else accepted the missionary's word.

Despite Stuck's giving immediate and subsequent credit to Karstens as the true climbing leader, news stories about the exploit revolved around the Archdeacon, with only anonymous reference to his "companions." The resentments that Karstens had built up during the expedition—based partly on Stuck's sparse participation in camp duties, particularly his leaving the cooking to others, and partly on his literary airs and refined manner—now exploded. In an undated letter to Charles Sheldon, probably written in early August 1913, Karstens expanded upon both the technical aspects of the climb and his many complaints about Stuck. He lamented the fact that Sheldon had not climbed the mountain with him rather than the "preacher."

Despite Stuck's repeated attempts at reconciliation, the strong-willed Karstens never forgave him. Mutual avoidance was the only resolution. As can be inferred from the careful treatment of this feud by Stuck's biographer, [42] the chemistries and backgrounds of the two men—the rough-hewn pioneer versus the doctor of divinity—were so distinct that the rights and wrongs of the dispute probably were less important than differences of style. Unfortunately but predictably, Karstens' volatile temperament would raise its head again in this stalwart man's career. Yet the very singlemindedness that maintained Karstens' grudge would be one of his greatest strengths as a pioneering superintendent.

Beyond its unfortunate aftermath the climb had been, after all, a resounding success: well planned, well executed by men totally committed and able to surmount extreme physical challenges. Karstens' splendid pioneering ability and field leadership—as Hudson Stuck constantly reiterated—had been the key to that success.

It would be 19 years before the top-dwelling spirit of Denali would receive another visitor. [43]

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Last Updated: 04-Jan-2004