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Grand Marais climber abandons quest to reach top of Mount McKinley

Grand Marais climber Lonnie Dupre has given up his bid to become the first solo climber to reach the summit of Mount McKinley in January.

He left his camp at 14,200 feet Wednesday morning and made camp at 10,000 feet that evening on his way back to base camp, expedition manager Tom Suprenant reported in an e-mail Wednesday night.

The decision to give up a possible summit attempt on the 20,320-foot Alaskan peak came just a day after Dupre, 49, took advantage of a break in the weather to come down from a camp at 17,200 feet. He had spent six nights and five days at that height, pinned down by high winds and temperatures down to 50 below zero. He had lost "considerable strength and conditioning" during that wait, Suprenant said.

Tuesday's descent was difficult for Dupre, Suprenant said.

"It took all he had because of his physical condition," Suprenant said. "It was a real hard descent. He said, 'I didn't realize how weak I was.' "

Suprenant said Dupre's trip down from 17,200 feet on Tuesday was done in snowy conditions but with relatively light winds. The trip took him eight hours, Suprenant said.

"He had a cold night of sleep last night (Tuesday night)," Suprenant said. "I just don't think he has enough energy to keep warm."

Dupre had to cross a crevasse field between 14,200 feet and 13,500 feet on his descent, Suprenant said, and then round Windy Corner, known for the way wind funnels through a notch in the mountain. He is ultimately bound for base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200 feet.

Once again, Dupre will be harnessed into a 14-foot ladder designed to bridge a crevasse if he accidentally finds himself in one. He will also be pulling a sled with his food, fuel and supplies.

Winter ascents of Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) are difficult because of short daylight hours, extreme cold and high winds.

Only nine expeditions totaling 16 people have reached the summit in winter. Six deaths resulted from those climbs. Only one team has made the summit in January. Two Russians in a team of three climbers made that successful ascent in 1998.