If there is one thing you can say about successful adventurers and mountaineers, it’s that they tend to be a determined and tenacious bunch. Take polar explorer Lonnie Dupre for instance. He is currently in Alaska, where he’ll soon attempt to become the first person to complete a solo winter summit of Denali, the highest mountain in North America. This will be the fourth time in as many years he has braved the mountain alone in January, and thus far the summit has remained elusive.
Even in the best of seasons, Denali is a difficult and dangerous climb. At 20,237 feet (6168 meters) in height, it doesn’t seem particularly tall in comparison to the big Himalayan peaks. But the mountain falls at a much higher latitude which makes its altitude feel higher than it actually is. On top of that, the weather remains wild and unpredictable throughout the year, but never more so than during the winter, when temperatures can fall to -50°F (-45°C), winds blow in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h), and snowfalls are measured in feet, rather than inches.
But Dupre is no stranger to cold, harsh conditions. He once traveled 3000 miles (4828 km) across the Northwest Passage by dogsled and used the same method of transportation to circumnavigate Greenland as well. Additionally, he has been to the North Pole on two separate occasions, enduring extreme cold and dangerous ice along the way. Still, the solo winter summit of Denali has not been an easy objective to complete. He first made the attempt back in 2011, climbing as high as 17,200 feet (5242 meters) before turning back due to poor weather. In 2012 and 2013 the story was much the same, with heavy snows preventing a final push to the top of the mountain. He hopes that conditions will be more accommodating in January 2014.
In order to attempt this solo summit, Dupre will have to carry all of his gear and supplies with him as he goes. That will begin with a hike into Base Camp, dragging a heavy sled behind him as he goes. From there, he’ll begin the acclimatization process by shuttling his supplies to higher altitudes. In order to cut down on weight, he’ll once again climb without a tent, using snow caves as shelters instead. This has worked well in previous years and has allowed Lonnie to leave his heavy 4-season expedition tents behind.
In the history of climbing Denali in winter, there have been only 16 successful summits. Of those, six have died on the descent, which only underscores the danger of the expedition. Only three of those summits took place in January, which is the darkest and coldest month of the year in Alaska. Whether or not Lonnie can claim the fourth January summit, and first solo, remains to be seen