The Ascent of Denali

Ascent of Denali coverHudson Stuck (1865–1920), known as the Archdeacon of the Yukon and the Arctic, was an Episcopal priest, social reformer, and mountain climber in the territory of Alaska who co-led the first expedition to successfully climb Denali (Mount McKinley) in June, 1913. He wrote a book based on the climb, The Ascent of Denali (Mount McKinley): A Narrative of the First Complete Ascent of the Highest Peak in North America, which was published in February, 1914 by Charles Scribers Sons, New York.

Born in London in 1865, Stuck graduated from King’s College London and in 1885, eager to experience the “wide-open spaces” heralded in a railway advertisement, he immigrated to the United States. He worked in Texas for several years as a cowboy and a teacher, eventually turning to studying theology. After his training Stuck was ordained as an Episcopal priest and became the dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas in 1896. His notable accomplishments during this time included founding a home for indigent women, a boys’ school, and a children’s home; and in 1903 he pioneered the first state law to curb the “indefensible abuse” of child labor. 

Hudson Stuck with sigStill seeking a more challenging and adventurous life, Hudson Stuck moved to Alaska in 1904 to serve with Episcopal Church Missionary Bishop Peter Trimble Rowe, under the title Archdeacon of the Yukon and the Arctic, covering a territory of 250,000 square miles across northern Alaska. Stuck set right to work his first year in the north, helping to establish a church, mission and hospital at the new boomtown of Fairbanks. Over the next decade Archdeacon Stuck founded numerous missions and schools for Alaskan natives, and he visited them regularly, ministering also to miners and woodchoppers, and championing the plight of the Indians and Eskimos. 

In a typical winter Stuck mushed more than 2,000 miles by dogsled to visit the remote missions and villages, journeys which he would later immortalize in his book, Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled (1914). In 1908 he acquired a small riverboat,The Pelican, which he used on the Yukon River and its many tributaries, ranging several thousand miles every summer to visit the Athabascan Indians in their fishing and hunting camps. These travels he also later described, in his book Voyages on the Yukon and its Tributaries (1917). 

Stuck had experience in mountain climbing, including the Canadian Rockies and the dormant volcano Mount Rainier in Washington state. In 1913 he recruited the respected wilderness guide and musher Harry Karstens to join him in an expedition to the summit of Denali (then known as Mt. McKinley). Other members were Walter Harper, of Alaska Native and Irish descent, Tennessee native Robert G. Tatum, and two student volunteers from the mission school, Johnny Fred (John Fredson), and Esaias George.

8. Base Camp

Base camp, from the book.

They departed from Nenana on March 17, 1913 and reached the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913. When the party returned to base camp, Stuck sent a messenger to Fairbanks, and their groundbreaking achievement was announced to the world on June 21, 1913, by The New York Times.

Stuck worked as an Episcopal priest in Alaska for the rest of his life, writing five books, in part to reveal the abhorrent exploitation of the Alaska Native peoples that he witnessed in his work. In 1920, at the age of 55, Hudson Stuck, the venerable Archdeacon of the Yukon, died of bronchial pneumonia in Fort Yukon, and at his own request was buried in the native cemetery there.

3. Clearwater Camp

Tatum, Esaias, Karstens, Johnny and Walter, at the Clearwater Camp, from the book.

Harry Karstens, Stuck’s co-organizer, went on to become the first superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park when it was established in 1917. Walter Harper, the Irish-Koyukon Alaska Native, was the first to reach the summit of Denali on June 7. After the climb, Harper continued his formal education, and he planned on going to medical school. In September, 1918 Harper married Frances Welles with Archdeacon Stuck officiating, and he and his wife boarded the ill-fated steamer SS Princess Sophia, en route to Seattle, for their honeymoon. The ship ran aground on a reef in a snowstorm, was broken up in a gale, and sank on October 25. All 268 passengers and 75 crew were lost.

The fourth member of the climbing party was described in a biographical sketch on the website for the Special Collections of the University of Tennessee Knoxville: “The 21 year-old Robert Tatum, a postulant for holy orders and Tennessee native, was teaching at the Episcopal mission school at Nenana, Alaska when he met Stuck on one of the Archdeacon’s regular visits to the mission. Stuck enlisted Tatum as the camp cook for a planned ascent of Denali the next year. Even a trek to base camp would be a mountaineering feat. Tatum, the only inexperienced climber in the party, trained by hiking more than a thousand miles during the winter months that preceded the expedition. It was mere happenstance that Tatum joined the climb to the top. Just one week before the scheduled departure, Stuck invited Tatum to replace another climber who was unable to join the team.”

This post is an excerpt from:

Alaska & The Klondike
Alaska & the Klondike, Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, published May 10, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping), 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. Click the link in the title for more information, or Click here to order.
Kindle Edition now available. $5.99 (Kindle MatchBook $2.99)

About Helen Hegener

Author and publisher, Northern Light Media and Alaskan History Magazine.
This entry was posted in Alaska History, Book Reviews, Books, Explorers, Kindle eBooks, News & Information, Sled Dog History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s