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Centennial Climbers Return to Talkeetna

by Phillip Manning ~ July 5th, 2013

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The Centennial Denali expedition arrived in Talkeetna late on July 3rd after retracing their ancestors’ steps all the way to the top of North America.  On June 28th, five men, most with direct family ties to the original 1913 summit team, made the final ascent from the Harper Glacier along with four guides from Alaska Mountaineering School.  They spent half an hour on the highest spot on the continent, then began the long trek down.

Of the six descendants who set out on the expedition, five reached the summit.  Only one had climbed Denali before.  For the rest, the total of their experience in the Alaska Range was a mountaineering course earlier in the summer.

The expedition encountered very favorable weather conditions, and Alaskan-born Dana Wright explains how the fortunate weather helped them to the top.

“It made it a lot easier, I mean, we’d se clouds roll in and it was like, ‘Oh, here comes the storm,’ and then the clouds would roll right over and then it was blue skies again.  It really made it easy for us to find a good route and see all the objective hazards in the way.  I couldn’t ask for better conditions, and it really upped the chances for us, so it worked out incredibly well.”

Wright is a descendant of Walter Harper, the first man ever to set foot on the summit of Denali.  He describes how he also became the first in his expedition to reach the 20,320 foot pinnacle.

“It felt really great.  We were all on rope teams, and it was a guided expedition, but the guys ahead were like, ‘Get up there.  Do your thing.’   It was an awesome summit day.  We got some good photos right before the weather socked in around us.”

The most technically challenging part of the climb is Karstens Ridge, named for Harry Karstens, one of the members of the 1913 expedition.   Karstens’ great-grandson Ken describes the climb on the ridge that bears his family name.

“The ridge itself was immaculate.  In 1913, they spent weeks  carving out foot steps and trying to find a route up that ridge.  It was very clear, it was very obvious which way we were supposed to go.  Looking out over those views was incredible…just seeing what they saw.”

Hunter Dahlberg, one of the four guides that accompanied the expedition, says that while Karstens Ridge is the most difficult part of the expeditions route in terms of climbing difficulty, the hardest part of the trip is much closer to sea level.

“The most challenging part is the walk in from the road head, the twenty-plus miles you walk with heavy loads to get to the glacier.  You’re crossing rivers, you’re swatting mosquitoes, you’re doing long days on muddy trails, and then you have to do it again on the way out.  And the river was higher, so that section provides the real barrier to the Muldrow Route.  It often weeds out those with less intestinal fortitude.”

With the climb over, the team members are returning to families and jobs across the country, but they will be forever bonded by their journey to the top of North America.

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