James Wickersham (for whom the north face Wickersham Wall is named) recorded the first attempt to climb Denali in 1903, however he was unsuccessful. Frederick Cook then claimed a successful first attempt in 1906, but his claim of actually reaching the summit is unverified, and its legitimacy is in question.
The first verifiable ascent to Denali's south summit was by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum on June 7th, 1913. Alaskan Native Walter Harper was the first to step upon Denali's 20,310 foot south summit.
The entire expedition by foot and dogsled to the northern route up the Muldrow Glacier, took three months and four days before returning home to Tanana. In 1951, Bradford Washburn pioneered the West Buttress route to reach Denali's south summit; the most popular route to this day. Bradford's wife Barbara, became the first woman mountaineer to summit Denali on June 6th, 1947.
Present-day climbers do not need to walk or ski to Denali from distant locations to attempt a climb … they fly to Kahiltna Base Camp by Air Taxi. This location allows for easier access to the popular West Buttress route. Over the years, 500-1,000 climbers register to attempt Denali's summit each season.
Top: Denali looms large at the north end of the 44-mile long Kahiltna Glacier, with ground rock (dark lines) being moved onto the main glacier from peripheral glacier forks. Kahiltna Base Camp, visible as the "cluster" between the single-file trails and landing strip up-glacier, is set up in the Southeast Fork of Kahiltna Glacier at a 7,200 foot elevation.
Center: Kahiltna Base Camp is run by Park Service Rangers and Volunteers and is a safety-zone of sorts for climbers, as it has radio communications, first-aid capabilities, and a landing strip. Super Cub on the landing strip facing downhill looking directly at 17,400 foot Mt. Foraker. Off the right wingtip, in the far distance, is the Kahiltna Base Camp.
Panorama: Veteran and consummate Alaska Bush Pilot Jim Okonek admires the 180-degree view looking west from the head of the Kahiltna Glacier's Southeast Fork.
This majestic area of the Alaska Range is a flawless reminder of the great and powerful forces of the natural world around us that are in constant flux.
All images © Dave Parkhurst www.TheAlaskaCollection.com