Minnesota climber hopes an alpine-style ascent will get him to the top of another Alaskan peak
TALKEETNA, Alaska — Another year, another mountain.
Grand Marais, Minn., adventurer Lonnie Dupre was holed up at the Talkeetna Roadhouse in Talkeetna, Alaska, on Tuesday making final preparations for yet another mountain ascent.
Recently back from a climb in the Himalayas, Dupre, 55, hopes in coming days to become the first person to make a solo winter ascent of Alaska's Mount Hunter, at 14,573 feet. A team of climbers reached the peak in the winter of 1980.
He flew into the Kahiltna Glacier on Wednesday to begin his approach to Mount Hunter. He expects the climb, if successful, will take him about two weeks.
You may recall that Dupre spent parts of four years trying to become the first person to solo Alaska's Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet, during January. He finally succeeded in January 2015 after enduring an earthquake and winter storms that kept him holed up for days at a time on previous attempts.
He's back in Alaska after returning from Nepal this past fall, where he and a team of climbers made the first attempt to climb Mount Langju, at 20,800 feet. The mountain had only recently been opened to climbers by Nepal. Dupre and his group were turned back high on the mountain due to avalanche conditions.
In addition to his solo winter ascent of Denali, Dupre's adventure resume includes the following:
• The first non-motorized circumnavigation of Greenland by dogsled and kayak, 1997-2001
• The first west-to-east, 3,000-mile winter crossing of Canada's Northwest Passage by dog team
• Two treks on skis, pulling sleds, to the North Pole from northern Canada, 2006 and 2009
• An ascent of 20,295-foot Kyajo Ri in Nepal.
Dupre, who grew up in central Minnesota, is a descendant on his mother's side of French explorer Jacques Cartier, who claimed a portion of what is now Canada for France. On the eve of his departure for Mount Hunter, Dupre took a few minutes in Talkeetna to describe his current climb and his passion for adventure.
FORUM NEWS SERVICE: Why do you continue to take on these challenges that put you in extreme situations and conditions?
DUPRE: I'm starting to ask myself that a little more often as I get older. I guess it's because I have fun working through the math and the problems of how to approach something. When I look at Hunter, it has a lot of variables. It's kind of the ultimate in extreme lightweight travel in an extreme environment. Trying to make it work — solving the math problem and implementing it to see if I was right, that's kind of fun to me. The climbing is all work.
FNS: The math involves figuring out how much you'll need to survive up there? For the last part of the climb, you'll carry a 55-pound pack with everything you need to stay alive for 15 days?
DUPRE: Weight is going to be the biggest issue. The key to the project is making sure I have everything dialed in in terms of food, gear and fuel. I've had many tries on Denali, so I know what I can get by with and what I don't need.
FNS: How is Mount Hunter different from Denali in terms of challenge?
DUPRE: Hunter is quite a bit shorter, about 6,000 feet shorter, but it's highly technical and difficult because it's very sheer all the way around, very steep. It's not until you get up high that you have some relief from the steep climbing. Once you're up to the ridges, they're fairly broad and look safe. But because there's so much snow, they contain longitudinal cracks. I'll need to do a lot of probing when I get up high.
FNS: What kind of temperatures are you likely to encounter?
DUPRE: Cold and crisp, probably between 25 and 40 below (Fahrenheit). The extended forecast looks pretty good — fairly stable, low winds.
FNS: Earlier in your career, you focused more on dogsledding and ski travel. Since about 2010, you've put most of your energy into climbing. Why the course change?
DUPRE: It was a coincidence that I moved into mountaineering. When Buck Benson and Tom Suprenant (both of Grand Marais) and I went to Denali in 2010 (for a summer climb), it was kind of a good ol' boys trip. We managed to climb the dang thing. In the process, I got a different appreciation for mountains and mountaineering. Earlier on, most of our travel had been in cultural or exploration-type things. Now, I'm going more to the personal challenge kind of thing.
FNS: You've managed to retain a good deal of sponsorship. How has that changed over the years?
DUPRE: Back in the day where you could raise money for a North Pole expedition, the projects were longer. The type of money you could raise then you can't raise now. We're more of a fast turnover, media society. They want short-term, big projects. We used to plan trips three years out because we needed to raise a half-million dollars. Now, we're keeping projects under $20,000.
FNS: What will the Mount Hunter climb cost?
DUPRE: Between $8,000 and $12,000.
FNS: What is the greatest risk in this climb?
DUPRE: When you have a heavy pack on a steep slope, the biggest risk is slipping. You can't afford to slip with that much weight on your back. It's too hard to self-arrest, or catch yourself.
FNS: How will your approach to Mount Hunter differ from your attempts on Denali?
DUPRE: What I've chosen on my attempt on Hunter is an alpine approach, where I go light and fast. There is a catch. Going "light" means humping a 60-pound pack up a 70-degree slope while you're post-holing (in deep snow). I'm at the very threshold of my abilities here. I've taken every precaution I can to make the project as safe as possible. And, as you know, I'm not afraid to pull out.
FNS: Will you be using ropes on your ascent?
DUPRE: Basically, I'm free-climbing, using crampons and two ice-axes, with no ropes. I'll use rope on the way down in two locations of six pitches (about 60 feet each) that are too steep for downclimbing.
What he'll carry
What does a solo climber carry to stay alive for 15 days on an Alaskan mountain in winter? Here's much of what Lonnie Dupre is carrying in his pack on his attempt to reach the summit of Alaska's Mount Hunter this January.
• 15 days of food, most of it homemade, about 1.5 pounds per day, including beef jerky; energy bars of clarified butter, nut butters, coconut and honey; lentil/pea soup mix; black-bean-potato-egg hummus; olive oil.
• 7 ounces of white gas per day, 105 ounces total
• 6mm Kevlar-core climbing rope, 80 feet
• Primaloft and waterproof down clothing
• Down sleeping bag and sleeping pad
• Smoke-tanned deerskin/wool mitts
• Personal locator beacon
• Satellite phone
• Small transistor radio
• Stove and cooking pot