Video: 100 Years Of Climbing Mt. McKinley

Climbing Mt. McKinley in 1913
Project Gutenberg

Standing 20,320 feet in height, Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America and one of the most challenging climbs in the entire world. While it doesn’t rival the big Himalayan peaks in terms of altitude, it more than makes up for it with a number of technical climbing challenges and notoriously fickle weather that can even be bad during the peak climbing season of May and June.

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of McKinley, which is generally referred to by its native Koyukon name of Denali in mountaineering circles. On June 7, 1913, Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck and Robert Tatum became the first men to stand on the summit of this imposing peak. A century later the route to the top remains nearly as elusive as it was when they first made the journey.

To celebrate this impressive milestone, the National Park Service released the following video that not only commemorates the accomplishment of the first ascent but also attempts to answer the age old question of why we climb. It is an inspiring and thought provoking short film, to say the least.

Polar Explorer Attempting January Denali Summit Again

Polar explorer Lonnie Dupre is attempting a Denali summit in JanuaryThere 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]


20130108.lonniedupre.interview from Lonnie Dupre on Vimeo.

Denali sled dog pups on national park’s webcam

Sled dog pups in Denali National Park are adorableDenali National Park, located in the stunning wilds of Alaska, is amongst the more remote and beautiful destinations in the entire U.S. park system. It is well known for its array of wildlife, a single 91-mile scenic road, and as the location of Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. What many visitors don’t know however, is that the park has its own dog kennel, which is home to a new litter of sled dog pups on an annual basis.

In late July, pups Tatum, Koven, and Carpe, named for peaks inside the park, joined the Denali pack after their mother, Pingo, gave birth to them. Since then, they have been growing very quickly, as pups are known to do, and after they turned three weeks old, the National Park Service installed a webcam into their kennel giving us the opportunity to peek in on them from time to time. To catch a glimpse of these energetic, feisty, and downright adorable pups, click here.

The Denali sled dogs are no doubt beautiful animals, and thousands of visitors stop by to see them each and every summer. But they also play a vitally important role in park operations during the very long Alaskan winters as well. Sled dog teams provide access to sections of the park that simply can’t be reached by any other means and without them rangers simply wouldn’t be able to patrol the park as effectively. It is for that reason that the park breeds a single litter each year, choosing two strong parents to bring new members into the pack.

Tatum, Koven, and Carpe won’t be pulling a sled anytime soon, but they will be on webcam until they are ready to join the adults and begin their training. Until then though, we’ll get to watch them grow up before our eyes.

[Photo courtesy NPS/Larissa Yocum]

Climber hopes to make solo summit of Denali in January

Climber Lonnie Dupre will attempt a solo summit of Denali in JanuaryStanding 20,320 feet in height, Alaska‘s Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, is the tallest mountain in North America. Due to its extreme weather conditions throughout most of the year, it is typically only climbed in June and July, when the short Alaskan summer allows for the best access to the summit. But in January, mountaineer and polar explorer Lonnie Dupre will attempt the unthinkable – a solo summit in the dead of winter.

The 49 year old Dupre is no stranger to cold climes. He has spent much of his adult life exploring the polar regions of our planet on foot or by kayak and dogsled. During his illustrious career Dupre has visited remote regions of Siberia, completed a Northwest Passage crossing by dogsled, circumnavigated Greenland, and visited the North Pole.

But a solo summit of Denali in January will be a completely different kind of challenge. In fact, only 16 people have ever reached the summit in winter at all, and it has only been successfully climbed in January on one other occasion when a team of three Russian mountaineers topped out back in 1998. Additionally, there have been six deaths on Denali as a result of attempted climbs during the winter.

As you would expect, January is the coldest month of the year on the mountain, but adding to the challenge is the perpetual darkness that shrouds the region during the long Alaskan winters. To avoid the cold, dangerous winds, Dupre plans to take shelter in ice caves that he’ll dig himself and won’t even carry a tent along on the climb, something that the Russian team did on their successful climb as well. He’ll also have to deal with 24 hours of darkness during his climb, which adds to the psychological challenges as well.

If everything goes as planned, Dupre should depart from his home in Minnesota today for Talkeetna, Alaska, where he’ll put the finishing touches on the preparation for his expedition. He hopes to reach the summit of Denali before January 31st.

[Photo credit: Bob Webster via WikiMedia]

Only in Alaska: Flight-seeing Mt. McKinley

Yesterday we wrote about the tallest mountain in the world: Mt. McKinley (better known as “Denali”). Now, how to view this mighty peak? If you want to see the summit, you have two options: One, you could climb the mountain. But if the training and heights and gear and time are a bit too much for you, then consider a second option: a flight tour.

In both Denali Park (the village just outside the national park that houses all the visitor services) and the small town of Talkeetna, which serves as the base for all climbers making summit attempts, flight tour operators abound. You’ll have several options to choose from when deciding on a tour. Some will not only buzz the summit, but also land on one of the mountain’s many glaciers. If you want to get really adventurous, you could try a helicopter tour; many of these also include glacier landings.

On my recent tour of Alaska, I signed up for a basic summit viewing flight tour through Denali Air. The ten-seater propeller Piper was much, much smaller than any plane I’ve ever been on, and the turbulence on take-off and landing was palpable. We all wore headsets with microphones, and, once we hit 12,000 feet, oxygen masks. The unpressurized cabin also required heat, and the pilot cranked it up (the temperature outside was around 25F below zero).

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The pilot flew us within a mile or two of the summit, though we felt like we were only a few hundred feet away. Besides pointing out the West Buttress and the Wickersham Wall, he also showed us the 14,000ft base camp – a minuscule smattering of several dozen tents.

A flight tour of Denali doesn’t come cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on circling the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a two-hour tour, and even more for options like a glacier landing. It doesn’t matter whether you fly out of the park or Talkeetna; the summit looks the same no matter which direction you fly in from. Pop a Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness, and don’t forget your camera!

My trip through Alaska was sponsored by Princess Cruises, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are all my own.