Mary Carey: Alaska’s local legend


Photos: Mt. McKinley as Seen from Mary’s McKinley View Lodge Jean Carey Richardson, daughter of Mary Carey, Children’s book author and owner of Mary’s McKinley View Lodge.
Jean Carey Richardson, daughter of Mary Carey, Children’s book author and owner of Mary’s McKinley View Lodge.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n 1962, Mary Carey drove from Texas to Alaska hoping to build herself a new life. She became a school teacher in the small town of Talkeetna, which at the time was only accessible by plane. It was there that she met and befriended famous bush pilot Don Sheldon, who was known as one of the most proficient pilots for glacier landings and rescue missions to Mt. McKinley.

There are numerous myths surrounding Mary Carey. Some say she was the first woman to climb Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Others say that she was a pilot and that she injured her back falling on the mountain. None of these are true.

Carey was a photojournalist, eager to fly Mt. McKinley with Sheldon and document his experience as a bush pilot.

“She was never like other moms,” said her daughter, Jean Carey Richardson. “She loved to travel and she loved excitement. When I was a girl in school, she would take me out of school all the time to take me somewhere and travel. When my teachers complained, she always said travel was the best education.”

When she first approached Sheldon about the possibility of flying Mt. McKinley with him, he replied, “Not for a woman.” Not one to take no for an answer, she finally got to fly with Sheldon; they landed on numerous glaciers for photos and stories and in search of lost mountain climbers. It was during that time that she was able to obtain exclusive coverage of the 1964 earthquake in Kodiak, Seward and Valdez.

“She loved everything about reporting. She loved the excitement, going places, meeting people,” said Richardson.

Carey was also the first woman to homestead alone in a virtually inaccessible area. While she was there, she declared war—through news articles—on the governor of Alaska. She wanted the highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks finished. Seven years later, she won and the highway was completed. It was in her homestead where she built Mary’s McKinley View Lodge, which is now owned and operated by her family.

Carey’s stories have been told and retold so often that details are sometimes left out, replaced by half truths and exaggerations. But one thing seems true: Mary Carey became a local legend in Alaska, inspiring people to try to accomplish things they might not have thought were possible.

“I hear from a lot of women that read her books and they tell me that the fact that she was willing to come out here alone at 50 years old and start over and do all the things she did, gives them a lot of confidence to try things themselves that they otherwise might not have thought was appropriate or thought they couldn’t do,” said Richardson. “Mother never saw any challenge that she would back away from.”

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