Denali. The name alone conjures certain images, certain feelings. The sheer size and heft of the mountain, intimidating, often deadly. Maybe climbing Denali is something you’ve done. Maybe you’ve stood at its base, feeling those feelings and seeing those images with your own two eyes.
Now imagine those feelings and images if you knew that no one had ever climbed Denali to her peak before; if you knew that you were the first person ever to undertake that climb.
That’s what British explorer and adventurer Hudson Stuck did in spring and early summer of 1913, as he became the first person ever to summit Alaska’s awe-inspiring Denali.
Born and raised in London in the mid-19th century, Stuck, yearning for a more adventurous life, emigrated to Texas in 1885 to work as both a cowboy and a teacher. By 1889, Stuck was also ordained as an Episcopalian priest, serving a congregation in rural Texas and then in Dallas as the century wound down. In addition to leading his congregation, Stuck was an advocate for child workers -- he helped pass early child labor laws in Texas -- for millworkers, and for the poor. He was also a leading voice in the opposition of lynching, which reached an all-time high in Texas around the dawn of the 20th century.
In 1904, Stuck made his way north to Alaska on a missionary trip. Learning to travel via dogsled and snowshoe, Stuck soon began founding missions, churches, schools and hospitals in and around the booming city of Fairbanks.
And though his life’s work was in helping people, Stuck was an adventurer at his core. Having climbed Washington’s Mount Rainier, along with various other mountains and peaks in his time in Alaska, Stuck set his sight on the indomitable Denali.
In March of 1913, Stuck and his team of five -- which included renowned guide Harry Karstens and Alaskan Native climber Walter Harper -- departed Nenana for Denali. On June 7 of that year, the crew had summited, with Harper the first to reach the top.
While the remainder of Stuck’s life was to be filled with adventure, his true mission became helping Alaskan Native youths in pursuing their education. Stuck went on to found and sponsor myriad scholarships, allowed Alaskans to head south to the continental U.S. in search of higher education. Under his purview, several young Alaskans received educations, many of whom returned to their native home to become leaders in their community. Most famously, John Fredson, who summited Denali alongside Stuck, graduated from Tennessee's University of the South only to return to Alaska and eventually become a tribal leader in his native lands.
Whether leaving his home behind to become a Texas cowboy, climbing a theretofore unchartered mountain, the largest in North America, or committing himself to the community around him, Hudson Stuck was a man of virtue, of action and of adventure. He was a living embodiment of the Die Living nation.