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After narrow escape, Dupre calls off climb

Lonnie Dupre of Grand Marais took this photo of himself shortly after extricating himself from a crevasse he had fallen into near the base of Alaska's Mount Hunter on Saturday. The ice axe he clung to while trying to get out of the crevasse is still embedded in the snow near his feet. Lonnie Dupre photo1 / 2
Lonnie Dupre of Grand Marais made this self-portrait near a camp on his attempt to climb Alaska's Mount Hunter. Lonnie Dupre photo2 / 2

Grand Marais climber and adventurer Lonnie Dupre narrowly escaped disaster during his attempt this past week to solo-climb Alaska's Mount Hunter.

Dupre, 55, broke through a crevasse on his retreat from the 14,573-foot mountain and hung by a single ice axe for several minutes with his feet dangling beneath him, he said.

"That scared the s--- out of me," said Dupre, who in 2015 became the first solo climber to summit Alaska's 20,310-foot Denali in January. "Getting back down to my tent, I was pretty shaken up."

The News Tribune reached Dupre on Wednesday in Calgary, Alberta, on his way back from the climb. In attempting Mount Hunter, he was hoping to become the first person to reach its summit solo in January.

He had flown from Talkeetna, Alaska, to the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,800 feet on Jan. 4 to begin his ascent. He had climbed to 10,300 feet on the mountain last year — though not in winter — and believed he had found a route he could climb solo.

Dupre said soon after beginning his trek across a glacier to Mount Hunter on this climb, he was tent-bound in a severe windstorm for a day and a half. After that, in approaching the mountain on a glacier, he realized the route he had planned to climb would not be possible without more protection (devices that secure a climber to a mountain) and more rope. The same day — Saturday — Dupre tried to find an alternate route at about 7,800 feet but was unsuccessful. So, he turned back for his tent down the mountain. The temperature was about 25 below zero, he estimated.

On his descent, carrying a 30-pound backpack, he had just noticed that the snow didn't "look right."

"And then I busted through," Dupre said.

He was at the edge of a deep crevasse and managed to plunge his ice axe into the snow to arrest his fall. But the rest of his body, plus his backpack, was dangling into the crevasse. He moved each of his feet one at a time and felt them touch nothing.

"It was a big, dark, ugly crevasse," Dupre said.

He couldn't see the bottom of it.

Slowly and deliberately over the next several minutes, he managed to get out of his backpack while clinging with one hand or the other to the ice axe. He feared if he kept the pack on, the extra weight might cause him to fall into the crevasse. Once his backpack was off, he unclipped his second ice axe and used it to anchor the pack.

"I slowly raised a leg and managed to get the heel of my left foot out of the crevasse and onto the side of the hill," Dupre said. "I was on a pretty steep slope. I got my other foot out and got both hands on my ice axe. I stood up — and felt really sick to my stomach."

He composed himself, he said, and made the final 20-minute walk to his tent wondering if he would fall into another crevasse.

After a night in his tent, he was able to reach the Kahiltna Glacier base camp the next day. The weather was clear enough to let a pilot pick him up by plane.

Dupre said he will not attempt Mount Hunter solo again until he can make a spring or summer climb of the mountain and find a better route. He said he was as well-prepared for this expedition as he has ever been.

"You just don't know what it's going to throw at you," Dupre said.

In Calgary, Dupre and friend Pascale Marceau from Sudbury, Ontario, plan to do some ice-climbing and cross-country skiing. In March, he and Marceau plan to climb another mountain in Alaska.

Dupre has twice skied and pulled sleds to the North Pole and has made a kayak and dogsled circumnavigation of Greenland, among other Arctic expeditions.

Dupre said his attitude about taking risks has changed as he has aged.

"It seems the older I get, the more precious life becomes," he said. "Maybe it's because the clock is ticking. There's a lot of things you have left to do in life. I'm just not willing to take those risks that I did even a few years ago.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't do a solo trip again, but there's going to be a higher degree of safeguards."