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Grand Marais climber begins Denali descent short of summit

Lonnie Dupre has left his dank snow trench at 17,200 feet and is downbound on Alaska's Denali for his camp at 14,200 feet, expedition manager Tom Suprenant said today.

Lonnie Dupre
Lonnie Dupre on the summit at midnight in June 2010

Lonnie Dupre has left his dank snow trench at 17,200 feet and is downbound on Alaska's Denali for his camp at 14,200 feet, expedition manager Tom Suprenant said today.

Dupre, who had been pinned down by winds up to 100 mph for six days, is taking advantage of a small window of improved weather to make his descent, Suprenant said. He might try again for the summit after regrouping at the lower camp.

Dupre left his higher camp at 9:30 a.m. Alaska time, 12:30 p.m. Minnesota time.

"It's travelable," Suprenant said. "It's cloudy, not much wind. When I talked to Lonnie at 9:30 a.m., Lonnie said it was starting to break up and the wind was up a little, to about 25 mph, with good visibility."

Dupre, Grand Marais, had hoped to become the first solo climber to reach the summit of Denali in January. Only nine expeditions totaling 16 people have reached the 20,320-foot summit of Denali in winter. Six deaths resulted from those climbs. Only one team has made the summit in January.

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Dupre must travel a knife-edge ridge along the West Buttress from 17,200 feet down to 16,200 feet, then descend a steep wall to his 14,200-foot camp, where he cached food, fuel and a second sleeping bag on his ascent. Fixed ropes are in place to aid in Dupre's descent along the headwall, but not along the spine from 17,200 to 16,200 feet.

An earthquake of magnitude 5.4 on Saturday evening about 30 miles from Dupre's location may have changed conditions on his return route.

Today marks just the second time Dupre has been out of his snow trench at 17,200 feet in the past six days because of high wind.

Dupre and Suprenant talked briefly about attempting the summit of Denali today but rejected the idea because the window of decent weather appeared to be too short and because Dupre's physical condition has likely deteriorated after he lay prone for six days, Suprenant said.

"It didn't look like (the weather break) was going to be long enough to go up and down on the summit," Suprenant said. "The conditions are as good as they're going to get, but marginal. When you do something like that, that's when you die."

So, Dupre is headed down.

"Once down at 14,200, he will regroup and reassess his options," Suprenant said.

He expected the descent to take at least 10 hours. The same distance on the way up took Dupre 16 hours.

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He began his climb Jan. 7 at 7,200 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier.

West Buttress
Climbers advance on the narrow path along the West Buttress route at 16,500 feet on Alaska's Denali in this photo from a June 2010 climb. Lonnie Dupre of Grand Marais was descending along this route Tuesday after being pinned down by high winds at 17,200 feet for six days. (Lonnie Dupre photo)

Related Topics: GRAND MARAIS
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