A polar adventurer from Minnesota is attempting to join a very exclusive club. Lonnie Dupre is hoping to become one of the few people to stand on the summit of Mt. McKinley in the winter time.
At just over 20,000 feet, Mt. McKinley is a challenge to climb in the best of conditions. As the tallest peak in North America, it draws both tourists and climbers like a magnet.
Last year over 1,200 climbers attempted to make its summit. Typically half of the climbers will reach that goal and almost all of that climbing was done between April and early July during the regular climbing season.
Fewer attempt the climb in the winter. If Dupre is successful in his solo climb he will become only the 17th person to stand on the mountain's summit in winter. He would also complete the first successful solo-January ascent ever.
"Just the mental toll of being in the dark, the wind, the cold and by yourself, is an incredible challenge,” said National Parks Spokesperson for Alaska John Quinley.
In 1967, Art Davidson was part of the first climbing group to reach Mt. McKinley's summit in winter.
“Nobody had been up there, so there was this fascination. What's it going to be like? How's it going to be climbing in the darkness? What are the storms going to be like? How hard will the wind blow?” said Davidson.
Davidson knows first had what kind of hardships the mountain can dish out in the winter.
His 1967 climb took 42 days. One member of the eight man team didn’t survive the climb. Just three men, including Davidson, reached the summit only to become trapped by a storm in a snow cave for six days.
"During that period of time our companions gave up on us and they thought that there was no way that we could be alive,” Davidson said.
Although suffering from serious frostbite, they did survive and all three of them eventually made their way off of the mountain.
In the following weeks, during Davidson's recovery in the hospital, he started work on a book about the climb.
The book is now considered a climbing classic. Its title sums up the winter conditions on McKinley – “Minus 148.”
Davidson, now the coach of his daughter’s soccer team, uses the lessons learned from his winter climb in his daily life.
"It's made a lot of difference for me in my life. For one thing, I'm just very thankful to be alive. You can't take life for granted,” said Davidson.
A solo climb always has a higher degree of risk because there is no one to assist you if you get into trouble and in the off-season on Mt. McKinley there isn't even anyone else on the mountain.
Davidson's account of the 1967 climb is still in print and Dupre plans to keep a record of his climb with daily blog posts on his website.