High Peaks and Homemade Doughnuts
Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher

Literature should not be just dusty books on a library shelf. The pages of good books should come to life in every reading and this week in Wilderness Voices, the Conserve School English class, they did just that complete with hot chocolate, homemade doughnuts, and a fourteen-foot pole. The class is in the midst of studying the literature of Alaska and the Far North. One of the strangest tales from that storied area is the saga of the Sourdough Expedition of 1910. Feeling spurned by the dubious claims by explorer Frederick Cook that he had conquered Mount McKinley (today Denali) in a 1906 climb (he did not), a group of rag-tag Alaskan gold miners sought to scale Alaska’s highest peak themselves to prove that Cook was lying and to show that Alaskans could do it themselves. 

Students carrying a log up a hill

On April 3, 1910, with little or no mountaineering experience and fueled mostly by hot chocolate and homemade doughnuts, the Sourdough boys stood atop the 19,470-foot North Peak of Denali’s summit and planted a 14-foot pole as proof of their accomplishment. Hailed as heroes by many from local boosters to President Taft, the Sourdoughs got carried away with their new-found fame and began embellishing the story until doubts began to arise whether they had actually done the climb at all. When a later expedition by renown climbers Hershel Parker and Belmore Browne reported no sighting of the fourteen-foot pole on their failed attempt to scale the higher South Peak of Denali in 1912, the Sourdough story became seemingly just another Alaskan tall tale.

carrying a log

It wasn’t until members of the Hudson Stuck Expedition of 1913, the first team to successfully ascend the 20,320-foot South Peak of Denali, spotted the fabled pole atop the North Peak during a rest stop in their own climb that the astonishing tale was proven as true. The Sourdoughs had climbed to the top of the continent and into Alaskan climbing history and they had done it with a fourteen-foot pole.

Log planted at top of hill

To celebrate this odd and endearing tale, the students of Wilderness Voices mount their own mini-expedition to the summit of the Sledding Hill planting their own fourteen-foot pole at its high point before enjoying hot chocolate and homemade doughnuts in honor of one of the strangest stories in all the literature of the Far North.

Students enjoying tea and dougnuts on hill
tea and doughnuts

Photos contributed by Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher