There are two things you can say with certainty about polar explorer Lonnie Dupre. The man is certainly persistent in his pursuits and he has an undeniable affinity for the cold places of our planet. For the third straight year, Dupre has ventured to Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley) in Alaska to attempt a solo summit of the mountain in January – the coldest, darkest and harshest time of year on that unforgiving peak.
With a height of 20,320 feet, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America and a difficult climb under the best of conditions. Only 16 climbers have ever managed to reach its summit during the winter and none were able to accomplish that feat in January when temperatures routinely fall below -60°F and high winds pummel the mountain’s upper slopes. As if those conditions weren’t difficult enough, blizzards can rage for days, depositing heavy snow across the mountain and creating potentially deadly avalanches as well. In short, it is pretty much one of the most inhospitable places on the planet at the moment.
Dupre, who has visited the North Pole on two separate occasions and navigated the length of the Northwest Passage by dogsled, is clearly unphased by these challenges. As in years past, he is climbing with just the bare essential gear and supplies in an attempt to move as fast as possible. He hasn’t even bothered to bring a tent on the expedition choosing instead to dig a series of snow caves that he can use for shelter at various altitudes.Thus far the weather has been less than cooperative once again this season and Dupre spent the better part of the month waiting in the small town of Talkeetna for the skies to clear. Eventually conditions improved just enough for him to catch a flight out to the Kahiltna Glacier. From there, he was able to organize his gear and start the two-day trek to Base Camp, but so far he hasn’t been able to climb any higher than 8800 feet. A heavy storm has fallen across the region and according to Dupre’s support team at home, more than 7 feet of snow has fallen on his position in the past few days. That has made it impossible for him to climb any higher, as visibility as been reduced to almost nothing.
For now, our intrepid climber sits and waits for conditions to improve to see if he can actually make a serious attempt at the summit. In 2011 he was able to get as high as 17,200 feet and last year he reached 15,400 feet before being forced to turn back. Perhaps this time he is getting the bad weather out of the way early and it will clear up later in the month. Temperatures haven’t been nearly as bad as they were on his previous attempts either, so that is a promising sign for possible success should the snow ever stop falling.
Dupre is documenting his climb with the hopes of making a film about his adventure. But rather than wait for that film to be released down the line, you can follow his progress on his website now.
[Photo Credit: National Park Service]