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Grand Marais adventurer Dupre summits Mount McKinley

Lonnie Dupre wasted no time moving down Alaska's Mount McKinley after reaching the summit late Sunday afternoon. The Grand Marais adventurer left his high camp at 17,200 feet about 3:30 a.m. Monday, made a call to his expedition manager at about 3 p.

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Lonnie Dupre wasted no time moving down Alaska’s Mount McKinley after reaching the summit late Sunday afternoon. The Grand Marais adventurer left his high camp at 17,200 feet about 3:30 a.m. Monday, made a call to his expedition manager at about 3 p.m. Central Time at 14,200 feet and said he was on his way to another camp at 11,200 feet. He expected to arrive at that camp on Monday night, he told expedition manager Stevie Anna Plummer.

Dupre reached the summit of North America’s highest peak, 20,237 feet, shortly after 5 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, according to Plummer. She received that confirmation from a SPOT GPS beacon message that Dupre transmitted from the summit, saying, “All OK. Doing well.”

With that news, Dupre, 53, became the first person to have reached the summit solo in January.

Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi in Talkeetna, Alaska, flew up near the summit late Sunday afternoon and saw Dupre’s headlamp as he was nearing his high camp at 17,200 feet on his way down from the summit, Roderick said Monday. Shortly after 9 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, Plummer received a second SPOT GPS transmission from Dupre confirming that he had descended from the summit and was in his camp at 17,200 feet.

This was Dupre’s fourth attempt to reach the summit of Mount McKinley, also called Denali. He failed in previous attempts to reach the summit in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and did not attempt the summit last winter.

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Only nine expeditions, totaling 16 people, have ever reached the Denali summit in winter, and six deaths occurred during those climbs. Of these previous winter expeditions, four were solo, but none was in January, the darkest and coldest time of the year on the mountain. Only a team of Russian climbers has ever successfully summited Denali in January.

Alaska’s weather has been relatively warm and dry this winter, offering Dupre a good window to make another attempt at the summit, said veteran Alaska climber Willi Prittie of Talkeetna.

Early on, Alaska climbers were skeptical of Dupre’s climbing skills, Prittie said.

“We all figured he’d have a steep learning curve,” Prittie said in a telephone interview Monday. “I’ve come to know Lonnie. Unlike most people in modern civilization, he knew what he didn’t know. He spent time figuring it out, having realistic goals. He’s never been averse to throwing in the towel. If more people had the common good sense he does, there would be a lot less problems in the mountains.”

While this winter has been unseasonably warm and dry by Alaskan standards, conditions can still be harsh near the peak of McKinley, Prittie said.

“Every 1,000 feet you go up, you drop between 3½ and 5 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Do the math. At 20,000 feet, it’s cold up there. Combined with the short days, it can be a real sufferfest.”

Ely’s Paul Schurke, who has made dogsled expeditions with Dupre, offered his congratulations to Dupre for his latest achievement.

“I’m in awe of Lonnie for reaching the ‘never say never’ moment, that moment when sacrifice, determination and perseverance come together and pay off against all odds,” Schurke said. “In the annals of exploration, a solo winter ascent of Denali may be considered by some to be a rather esoteric accomplishment. But the way Lonnie pulled this one off on a remarkable fourth attempt really makes him a standout in the adventuring world.”

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Dupre likely will make his way down the mountain as soon as conditions allow, Roderick said. If conditions are good, Dupre could possibly have made his camp at 14,200 feet Monday night, Roderick said, and could continue down to the Kahiltna Glacier and have an air pick-up the following day. Or, the weather could pin him down and prevent travel. He must also negotiate crevasses at lower elevations.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. 
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