TALKEETNA, ALASKA -- Polar explorer Lonnie Dupre departed Friday for the Kahiltna Glacier located at the base of Denali, aka Mount McKinley, in Alaska, North America's highest mountain.
Dupre, a Minnesota native who has traveled more than 15,000 miles throughout the high arctic and polar regions by dog team, ski and kayak, is attempting the first solo January ascent of Denali. The expedition, called 'Polar Climb 1,' is expected to take one month. Dupre has over 25 years of polar exploration experience, including the circumnavigation of Greenland and two expeditions to the North Pole.
Denali's 20,320-foot elevation and sub-Arctic latitude makes it a challenging climb in summer even by Himalayan standards. In winter, winds often exceed 100 miles per hour, temperatures plummet below -50F, and there is little daylight. This, combined with unpredictable weather and vast hidden crevasses, deems the mountain nearly unclimbable.
Only nine expeditions totaling 16 people have ever reached the summit of Denali in winter. Six deaths resulted from those climbs. Only one team (comprised of three Russian climbers) has ever made the summit in January...the dead of winter. Of those nine original expeditions, four were solo, but none of the solos were in January, the darkest and coldest time.
Dupre plans to pull a 6-foot, 150-pound sled across the lower reaches of the mountain, on skis to bridge crevasses. Both the sled and Dupre will be attached to a 14-foot lightweight aluminum ladder. The ladder will help to span crevasses should Dupre slip into one. As the terrain steepens, Dupre will switch to crampons and a backpack.
Six thousand calories per day will be needed to stave off the cold and will be eaten without cooking, with the exception of the dinner meal, to conserve weight and fuel. Some 300 bamboo wands with reflective tape will be carried to mark the route and previous camps from start to summit to guide the return during low visibility. Camps will consist of snow caves for shelter against hurricane force winds and frigid temperatures.
Dupre will be in daily contact from the trail with a support team stationed in Talkeetna. From there, daily blog entries, photographs, video and audio posts will be sent to support the expedition's website www.lonniedupre.com.
Dupre plans to use the project as a platform to bring attention to vanishing glaciers; produce a film and an audio documentary for radio and do something big at the summit that will be documented there...stay tuned.