CIRI shareholder and employee Johanna Harper doesn’t like the spotlight.
“I like to be the worker in the back, helping to keep things going – which is what I see Walter Harper doing,” she says, referring to her great uncle, the first person to set foot on the summit of Denali, on June 7, 1913. As part of the Stuck-Karstens expedition, Harper reached the summit just ahead of his companions Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens and Episcopal missionary Robert Tatum.
Last month, Harper was recognized for his historic climb when the National Park Service held a ceremony to rename a ranger station in Talkeetna for him.
“I imagine Walter as a hard worker,” Johanna describes. “He was raised in the Native tradition, skilled in hunting, trapping, fishing – everything a person would need to live off the land. Even as a twenty-year-old, he was an experienced guide and became a valuable member of the Stuck-Karstens team. Despite his many capabilities, though, Walter Harper has been described as ‘unobtrusive,’ so I do wonder if he wouldn’t have been a little embarrassed at all this acknowledgment, regardless of how well-deserved it may be.”
The renaming ceremony featured several speakers, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who introduced legislation to rename the station; Walter Harper’s great nephew, Mike Harper; and Johanna’s son, Dana Wright, who recreated his ancestor’s ascent last summer, on the anniversary of Walter Harper’s summit, along with other descendants of the 1913 expedition.
“I definitely got kind of an interactive, historic tour, being able to do the climb with Ken Karstens, who was more or less an expert on the original climb,” said Wright of his experience. The renaming, he said, “is a pretty big honor. It’s a big step forward in recognizing a story that’s gone largely untold, so getting a little credit where credit’s due – that’s nice for my family, and for Alaska Native people in general.”
The Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station serves as the base of operations for Denali National Park’s mountaineering operations, with climbers from all over the world passing through its doors each summer.
“The station is so integral to the mountain and that whole area,” says Johanna. “I am really pleased to be tied to that ranger station, where the Park Service does such incredible work.”