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Museum exhibit explores first ascent of Denali


An exhibit opening May 18 at the University of Alaska Museum of the North tells the story of the first ascent of North America’s tallest mountain. "Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain" explores the journey through the journals of the four climbers who reached the peak on June 7, 1913.

Guest curator Angela Linn says there was more to the story of the climb than the official published version. “As with all historical events, we learn about the history through the eyes of the person who wrote it down. The story that Hudson Stuck published in 'Ascent of Denali' was an exciting and important one – but the personalities of the team members didn’t come across.

“Through the journal entries of Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper and Robert Tatum, we get new insights into what really happened during the three months these men were engaged in the common goal of being the first to set foot on the summit of Denali. From the practical jokes to the tedious daily work on the mountain, every day the journals reveal what was on the minds of these men.”

The exhibit features artifacts from the 1913 expedition, including all four of the original journals. As she was researching the first ascent, Linn re-discovered objects that had been hidden for decades, such as the original flag flown at the summit, constructed from bits of silk handkerchief and the lining of a padded noodle can. “In the grand scheme of things, 100 years is not that long ago, but the objects associated with this climb were working tools. Much of the gear was just left on the mountain.”

When Linn started the project, she assumed there would be few objects. “But the archives holding the journals agreed to loan them, and then the families of the climbers came forward with some of the precious few things that still exist – the only remaining ice axe, one of the tie pins made by Tiffany & Co. with granite from the mountain and the hand-made flag. These artifacts will allow visitors to connect with the climbers in a way that simple words on paper cannot. This is the power of objects.”

Also featured in the exhibit will be a four-footwide model of Denali constructed of thin strips of laser-cut birch plywood. An animated projection on to the model will illustrate the climbing history on Denali, beginning with the first ascent of the north peak in 1910 and ending with the 2012 climbing season.

In addition, visitors will be able to explore the legacy of the first ascent through a documentary and several family-friendly activities, such as a Denali base camp and a knottying station. "Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain" will be on display in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery until April 12, 2014. The exhibit was created in partnership with Denali National Park and Preserve.

ON THE WEB: museum.uaf.edu

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