Why Isn’t Lonnie Dupre Getting the Glory?

You might have missed the news from Denali with all of the light shined on the Dawn Wall project in Yosemite. Of course, the Dawn Wall project was a brilliant effort. Seven years worth of perseverance, problem solving, and transformation for Tommy Caldwell. Five for Kevin Jorgeson.

I have been a Caldwell fan since sometime before he was kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan. I also remembered thinking his career would never be the same again when I learned he cut off his finger. I thought that his traverse of the Fitz Roy massif with Alex Honnold might be his most memorable accomplishment.

The media focus on El Capitan’s Dawn Wall route these past three weeks has been impressive. It was the 2015 equivalent of setting up your picnic under the Eiger’s north face to watch the first attempts unfold through binoculars. It gave me the opportunity to talk about (and explain) climbing to people I wouldn’t normally.

Still, I felt like one of my secret treasures was suddenly exposed. I was proud but part of me wanted to put it back in its box.

Also during the same last three weeks, another milestone climb with a story of perseverance was unfolding in the far north, on Mount McKinley/Denali: Lonnie Dupre made his fourth attempt in five years to climb Denali alone in January. He summited on January 11, 2015 around 2:15 p.m. local time.

Why hasn’t Dupre received more attention? I mean, like Caldwell and Jorgeson, Dupre wasn’t the first to climb their route. El Capitan has been summited hundreds of times and same with Denali. However, the numbers dwindle when you consider how they climbed their line. For Dupre, 16 people have summited Denali in winter already. But no one has topped out alone in January, the heart of the coldest season.

Until now. But I wouldn’t want Lonnie Dupre to get the same treatment as Caldwell and Jorgeson. Could he? Should he?

Of course, Caldwell and Jorgeson are both extroverted with strong sponsors. While on the other hand, Dupre takes a different approach to his fundraising and promotion. It’s more in tune with the climbing and adventure audience (well, at least it’s in tune with some purists). Plus, Alaska is much more remote that is Yosemite Valley. CNN wouldn’t travel so far, I don’t think.

Climbers know what Dupre did even if the world didn’t focus on it. And I’m okay with that.

So congratulations to Lonnie, Tommy and Kevin. Thanks for sharing your journeys with me.

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Denali Solo in January Not to Be

Polar explorer and new mountaineer Lonnie Dupre was attempting to pull off a first for the darkest and possibly hardest month of the year on Denali (20,320 ft./6,194 m.).  Only two alpinists have ever stood on Denali’s summit in the month of January (if my memory serves correctly).  Still, no one has done it alone during that month and Dupre could not change that. 

At least not this time.

Based on his previous accomplishments and what he endured to attain 17,200 ft. (5,243 m.), including several days in snow caves, high winds and even an earthquake, Dupre probably has it in him to try again. 

Even if he does not return, he tried and so far he is nearly back down (if he is not down already) to his base camp alive and in one piece. 

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Being First is One Thing, Getting There Another

As of today, Lonnie Dupre has 25 days remaining to attain his goal.  If he succeeds, he would be the first solo climber to reach Denali’s summit in January.  So far, only Russians Artur Testov and Vladimir Ananich have been there then, having topped out on January 16, 1998.

Last I heard, Lonnie Dupre just got the approval from his pilot in Talkeetna to fly to and land on the Kahiltna Glacier, where he will start his ascent up the West Buttress.

I think missions like this are always ripe for disaster.  When a climber sets a goal with a schedule like his there are various ways to be disappointed: the date might be missed, the summit might not be reached, and injury or fatality may occur.

A goal like this can motivate the climber to push him or herself too far or too hard to be successful.  Goals and objectives are good.  They are key to motivating and often drive us toward accomplishment and self-improvement.  But setting the right goals and expectations might moderate some of the self-imposed challenges climbers face.

A good alternative might be to set the simpler goal of reaching Denali’s summit in winter and see how the weather and circumstances come.  If the climber becomes the first to reach the top in January, great, but if not at least the climb was epic!

I don’t mean to disparage Dupre’s objectives.  They are fantastic and I am partially envious!  Like any mountaineer with a goal he or she has declared publicly, he is in a precarious position. Pressure from ego, satisfying sponsors, and the risk of failure can factor negatively climbing wisely sometimes.  Anyone that has set out for a bona fide first ascent — like Edmund Hillary on Everest or Hudson Stuck on Mount McKinley — probably realizes that the glory of success is great but that accomplishing the goal to get it was daunting and might not have happened.

Let’s hope Dupre can compartmentalized and separate the pressures of his mission from his logical analysis.  A key to being a great alpinist, it seems to me, is luck, nerve, perseverance and analytical skill.  Such a balancing act of such factors could result in a Zen-like moment.  Let’s also hope the weather cooperates!

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