On Thursday, climber and Arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre left Talkeetna for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January.
Climbing Denali is hard. Even in peak season, temperatures dip below zero, and frostbite is a real concern. In fact, this summer saw one of the lowest summit rates in decades, owing largely to weather. Not many people attempt North America’s highest peak in winter. Lonnie Dupre is one of the few who has. He is beginning his fourth attempt to summit the mountain in January. His previous attempts were all thwarted by the weather. Dupre says he’s surprised at how mild the Alaskan winter has been so far.
“I’m surprised on how little snow and how warm it’s been in Alaska, overall. That opens up a whole new bit of news, maybe, on climate change and what’s been going on with the weather these days.”
Lonnie Dupre takes climate change seriously. Many of his expeditions have been to raise awareness for the changing environment. Despite the warmer-than-normal temperatures in the lowlands of Alaska, however, Dupre says it will still be very cold on Denali, with temperatures potentially dipping to fifty-below-zero. Under those conditions, Lonnie Dupre says the body requires a lot of calories just to keep going.
“It’s like throwing a log on the fire, right? You’ve got to keep the firewood coming…”
Lonnie Dupre estimates he’ll be taking in about 4,500 calories per day to keep his internal furnace running. He says that hydration is even more important, and that he plans to drink four or five liters of melted snow-water each day.
Daylight is also a major factor affecting winter climbs. Lonnie Dupre will only have a handful of hours each day to try to make progress.
“A big challenge, aside from the cold, is you only have a limited time to travel, because it’s dark. I’m leaving at the darkest time of the year, so it only leaves you maybe five hours of useable light in mid-December.”
Crevasses present a challenge to Denali climbers regardless of the season. Without team members, Lonnie Dupre will be on his own should he find himself in an area where crevasses have opened.
“A preventative measure to not drop into one of those bad-boys is to take a big, long pair of skis, and I’m taking…about a thirteen foot long spruce pole with me.”
Like much of his gear, Lonnie’s eight-foot long skis are custom. In fact, he made them himself. This year, he is also bringing along a tent, sleeping bag, and down suit that should help him stay warm. Overall, Dupre feels good about this year’s attempt.
“You always get those butterflies in your stomach right before you go, but I’m excited to get moving. I’m feeling really good about this year; I’ve trained hard. I’ve got all the equipment I could have wished for for this trip.”
As with his previous attempts, Lonnie Dupre’s primary goal is to get back safely, though reaching the summit of Denali would be a definite plus.