How Four Amateurs Were the First to Climb North America’s Highest Peak in Order to Settle a Bet

Prodigious filmmaker David Friedman spotlights a determined group of four amateur climbers who were the first to climb Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), a feat several people had claimed to have already conquered (but didn’t). This amazing feat began with a bet made in a bar.

Meanwhile in Fairbanks, Alaska, a coal miner with no climbing experience was sitting in a bar. …His name was Thomas Lloyd. He had been working around Denali for years and he knew the region well. He boasted that heck, for someone like him, it would be easier to just climb the mountain than pretend to have climbed it. The bartender, Bill McPhee, says, “Tom, you are too old and too fat to climb to the top of Denali.” Tom says, “I’ll bet you two cents I can climb to the top.” Bill says, “You’re on!

Lloyd assembled a team of four miners (including himself), calling it “The Sourdough Expedition”. In February 1910, they set off to conquer the highest peak in North America. They reached their goal on April 3rd.

And so, in February 1910, those four miners with no mountaineering experience set out to climb Denali. …They hauled a 14-foot-tall flagpole that they intended to plant at the top of the mountain. …On April 1st, they made an initial attempt to go 8,000 feet from their last camp to the top of the mountain, but weather forced them back down. A couple days later on April 3rd, two members of the expedition tried again. Billy Taylor and Pete Anderson climbed 8,000 feet in one day, finally reaching the top. They stayed long enough to plant their flag and head back down.

Needless to say, there was much public skepticism around their story, which Lloyd embellished further. However, another team went up in 2013 and confirmed their story.

Then in 1913, another expedition went up Denali. Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens led a four-man team all the way up to the south summit of Denali, becoming the first people to truly reach the top of the mountain. And when they came back, they brought news. All four members of the team reported that they saw the Sourdough Expedition’s 14-foot flagpole on the north summit. Finally, the story was independently verified and the Sourdoughs could get the recognition they deserve.

Friedman also had a bit of fun putting the video on YouTube.

After you watch the video, play it again and choose “KLINGON” as your Closed Caption language. I’ve made a written commentary track for the video, but I didn’t want it to automatically appear for anyone as their default captions, so I had to pick a language that’s unlikely to actually be anyone’s default. So I put it in the Klingon captions.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.