Photo Collection Sheds Light On Denali Explorer Belmore Brown


A collection of photographs by turn of century Denali explorer Belmore Brown is on display in Fairbanks.

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The exhibit at the Fairbanks Community Museum was put together by longtime Talkeetna climbing guide Brian Okonek, whose describes Brown as a multi talented pioneer.

“He was quite a character, kind of a renaissance man; he was an artist, a very, very good landscape painter; he was a naturalist; and he’s also an explorer and climber and attempted to climb Denali three times,” Okonek said.

Brown’s endeavors to the mountain included a trip to disprove Frederick Cook’s 1906 first summit claim.

Brown’s 1912 expedition got within 300 feet of the top of Denali, a year before a team lead by Hudson Stuck logged the historic first summit.

Okonek says he’s long been fascinated by the early climbs and secured grants to travel to New Hampshire in 2012, to view Belmore Brown’s archives at Dartmouth College.

“It’s pretty exciting to walk into the library and have these shelves full of these boxes out of Belmore Brown’s collection and just start going through them, it was like a treasure chest full of negatives, and prints, and then be able to read through his journals,” Okonek said.

Okonek says the vast majority of Brown’s photos have not been published and he was able to scan about 250 to bring back to Alaska.

A selection of the pictures has toured the state, including this month’s exhibit in Fairbanks.

Okonek says researching pioneer Denali expeditions has given him great respect for the early climbers.

“They were very, very trail-hardened; they put up with some incredible, incredible discomfort,” Okonek said. “Whether it was the bugs, and the rain, and the bogs, and the brush of getting there and when Belmore Brown did it in 1912, their expedition was seven months long from the time they left Seward until the time they finally got back to Skagway.”

Okonek is giving presentation tonight on the early Denali climbing expeditions at the Morris Thompson Center in Fairbanks at 7 p.m.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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