Published January 22, 2013, 12:00 AM

Grand Marais man still on the move on McKinley climb

Weather permitting, Lonnie Dupre planned on climbing to 14,200 feet on Alaska’s Mount McKinley on Monday — the altitude where hurricane-force winds pinned him down for nearly a week last winter, ending that climb.

By: News Tribune staff, Duluth News Tribune

Weather permitting, Lonnie Dupre planned on climbing to 14,200 feet on Alaska’s Mount McKinley on Monday — the altitude where hurricane-force winds pinned him down for nearly a week last winter, ending that climb.

The Grand Marais adventurer is on his third attempt to become the first person to climb the 20,320-foot peak — North America’s highest mountain — solo in January.

“It looks great for traveling, so I’m pretty sure he left for 14,” project coordinator Stevie Plummer said Monday.

Monday. “The fact that he didn’t call us (Monday morning) is telling us that he left. I don’t know whether he will make it all the way to 14 or not. All his stuff is stashed at 13,000, just west of Windy Corner, so I’m pretty sure he’ll at least make it there.”

Dupre reached 11,200 feet on Thursday. Although stormbound on Saturday, he was able to move supplies higher on the mountain on Friday and Sunday, returning to spend each night at 11,200-foot camp. Carrying equipment higher on a mountain and then sleeping at lower elevations is a common technique that helps climbers become acclimated to higher altitudes.

Dupre skied to 11,200-foot camp; above that altitude he uses crampons, spikes that climbers attach to their boots to help them traverse ice and hard-packed snow.

But even with crampons, accidents will happen. Last year, winds Dupre estimated to be gusting to 70 or 80 mph blew him off his feet while descending an icy slope at 12,000 feet. He was able to stop his fall with his ice axes. He finished descending the hill by going backward using both ice axes and his crampons to prevent being blown off his feet again. What might have taken 25 minutes to walk down took him 2½ hours to descend backward.

As it did last year, severe weather thwarted Dupre’s first winter attempt to reach the summit in 2011, when he reached 17,200 feet, only to be pinned down by high winds until running low on food.

This winter, bad weather prevented a pilot from flying Dupre to the base camp at 7,200 on McKinley until Jan. 8. Dupre started his climb almost immediately, but storms have kept him confined to the snow caves he digs at each camp on several days.

Despite the delays, Dupre is in good spirits, Plummer said.

Part of the purpose for Dupre’s climb is to make a 20-minute documentary film called “Cold Love” to call attention to climate change.

Only nine expeditions totaling 16 people have ever reached the summit of Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, in winter. Six deaths resulted from those climbs. Only one team, composed of three Russian climbers, has ever made the summit in January. Of those previous nine winter expeditions, four were solo, but none of the solos was in January.

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