Winter Climbs 2013: January Denali Ascent Begins

800px Denali3

For three straight years polar explorer Lonnie Dupre has had his sights set on making the first solo summit of Denali in January, the coldest and harshest time of the year on North America’s tallest mountain. The start of this year’s attempt had been delayed due to bad weather and as a result Dupre was stuck in Talkeetna, Alaska waiting for the skies to clear so he could catch a flight out to his starting point. A few days ago the weather cooperated at last and the explorer/mountaineer has finally begun his ambitious winter climb.

On Tuesday of this week, Lonnie finally got the word that it was safe to fly. So he gathered his gear, met his pilot at the airport around noon, and by 1:30 PM he was dropped off on the Kahiltna Glacier where he had stashed a supply cache at 7200 feet (2194 meters). From there he began the march to his first camp on the mountain, located at 7800 feet (2377 meters), which he should arrive at today just in time for lunch. From there, he’ll press on for another few hours as he starts to acclimatize and build higher camps up the slopes.

According to his first dispatches, Lonnie is finding a lot of snow on and around Denali. That has made travel slow and difficult, but fortunately the winds have remained calm so far, which has helped to keep temperatures relatively stable. The mercury has been hovering around -5ºF/-20ºC so far, but it will plunge dramatically as he moves to higher altitudes. This being Denali in January, the calm winds aren’t likely to last long either.

After waiting for nearly two weeks, it seems Lonnie’s January climb is officially underway at last. Remember, he’ll be climbing completely alone and unsupported. He’ll even be going with out a tent as he builds a series of snow caves up the mountain to serve as his shelter as he goes. He hopes to complete the climb by the end of the month, weather permitting, which means he has exactly three weeks to acclimatize, stash his gear and then make the final push. Stay tuned to see if he can pull it off.

20130108.lonniedupre.interview from Lonnie Dupre on Vimeo.

Kraig Becker