Published January 09, 2013, 09:20 AM

Grand Marais adventurer arrives at Mount McKinley and begins solo climb

Alaskan weather finally allowed Grand Marais adventurer Lonnie Dupre to fly onto Mount McKinley on Tuesday to begin his third attempt to climb North America’s highest mountain solo in the dead of winter.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

Alaskan weather finally allowed Grand Marais adventurer Lonnie Dupre to fly onto Mount McKinley on Tuesday to begin his third attempt to climb North America’s highest mountain solo in the dead of winter.

“They landed at the base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier around 2:30 p.m. (Alaskan time), and he started moving as soon as they dropped him off,” said Stevie Plummer, the project coordinator. “He’s trying to make up for time sitting around here.”

The weather cooperated with a temperature of minus 10 on the glacier, calm conditions and good light, Plummer said.

Earlier Tuesday, Dupre told the News Tribune that chances of flying to the base camp on the glacier looked good.

“The mountain has cleared up for the first time since we’ve been here,” he said. “We got a call from the pilot. He says we are on and going to fly at 12:30 Alaskan time (3:30 p.m. CST), which is good. I’ll get to the glacier early, and then I can start moving.”

Dupre, 51, is attempting to become the first person to reach the 20,320-foot summit of McKinley (also known as Denali, Athabaskan for “The High One”) solo in January. Dupre and his team arrived in Talkeetna, a small town about 60 miles from McKinley’s base camp at 7,200 feet, in late December. He has been ready to fly onto McKinley since before New Year’s.

He said he hasn’t minded the wait.

“The first year I didn’t get out until the seventh of January,” he said. “It’s just something you prepare for. There is always going to be a wait to get on and off that thing. We have been lucky getting off it. Even after the expedition is all done, I might end up waiting at base camp for two weeks.”

Because of the shortness of the days, there only is about a two-hour window between noon and 2 p.m. when planes can safely land on the glacier at base camp, Dupre said. On the way there, planes have to fly over lower mountains and through mountain passes.

“It’s such a delicate process to get in there safely that we don’t take any chances,” Dupre said.

While waiting for clear skies, Dupre has relaxed and gone for runs and skied to stay in shape.

“We feel good,” Dupre said. “Everyone is optimistic about this year. Although the weather hasn’t allowed us to fly in, it has been stable. Had I been there, I would have been able to move.”

Dupre’s previous attempts to reach the summit in 2011 and 2012 were thwarted by severe weather. Last winter, Dupre called it quits after being pinned down at 14,200 feet for nearly a week by hurricane-force winds. In 2011, he reached 17,200 feet, where he was pinned down by high winds and ran low on food.

A team of two Russians reached the summit in January 1998. In total, 16 climbers from nine expeditions have reached the summit during the winter. Six climbers died on those expeditions. In all, 120 climbers have died on the mountain since 1932, according to the National Park Service.

Reporter Candace Renalls contributed to this story.

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