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Soloing Denali—in January


lonnie-dupre-denali-january-expeditionLonnie Dupre on Denali, January 2011. Courtesy photo

What’s Denali like in January? Think negative 50 degrees—or colder—and winds at 100 miles per hour. But there’s a bright side: six whole hours of daylight. Most people would pass, but not Lonnie Dupre. “I’ve never cared for the heat or summer,” says the polar explorer. On December 21, he’ll embark on a climb via the West Buttress and attempt to become the first to notch a solo summit of the 20,320-foot peak in January.

“It’s a personal challenge,” Dupre says, “and also a way to bring attention to the world’s receding glaciers and climate change.” During the expedition, Dupre will be conducting research and gathering microbe samples for the Biosphere 2 project run by Dragos Zaharescu at the University of Arizona. Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation facilitated the partnership as part of its work bringing outdoor athletes and scientists together.

“When combined with research done in Switzerland, South America, and the Himalayas, this puts together a really clear picture of how the environment is responding to climate change,” says Gregg Treinish, ASC’s executive director. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to further our message that people can make a difference when they get after it. What Lonnie’s attempting is really pushing the envelope of what humans can face. You have to be on it with every decision you make out there. The choices are really life and death.”

Over the past 25 years, Dupre’s explorations in the Arctic and Antarctic zones took him to what he calls “ground zero” for climate change. On a circumnavigation of Greenland, covering 6,517 miles by sled and kayak from 1997 to 2001, what he saw didn’t match up to maps made less than 20 years before. “We would come to these areas where the maps would show glacial tongues sticking out into the seas,” he says. “Not only would there be no glacial tongues; there would be no glaciers at all.”

Dupre attempted Denali in January 2011, but bad weather turned him back. Only nine expeditions have summited in winter. And only one team of three stood on the summit in January. To prepare, Dupre left his home in Minnesota to train and acclimatize in Colorado. “To call myself a master mountaineer would be a big stretch of the imagination. I’m learning skills specific to what I’m doing, hyper-focusing on the route that I’m taking,” he says. “The trick is to know how to dress, how to eat, and how to pick out the absolute best equipment for what you’re going to do. Then it’s not that uncomfortable. It’s like grabbing your briefcase and going to work.”  —Olivia Dwyer

Follow the expedition at lonniedupre.com.

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