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Wind delays McKinley solo climber's return

TALKEETNA -- High winds thwarted an attempt to pluck adventurer Lonnie Dupre from Mount McKinley base camp Wednesday after his historic solo January climb of the mountain.

Dupre, a 53-year-old career polar adventurer from Minnesota, reached the summit of the mountain Sunday. In doing so, he became the first person in history to stand atop North America's highest peak alone in the month of January, when light is scarce and conditions can be dangerously cold and windy. It was his fourth attempt at a January summit.

A solo summit this time of year is a real "sufferfest," as Talkeetna climber Willi Prittie put it.

Just after 1 p.m. Wednesday, two Talkeetna Air Taxi planes filled with sponsors, Alaska media and Dupre's expedition manager and photographer were on their way to basecamp, located at an elevation of 7,200 feet on what had been a crystalline day in the Alaska Range when a rough weather front moved in.

"The clouds were just suddenly descending, dropping down," said Trent Griffin, a Talkeetna Air Taxi pilot.

Winds exceeding 35 knots kicked up. Between flat light, unknown snow conditions on the ground and the wind, the pilots decided they couldn't safely land.

"I wasn't even tempted to try," said Talkeetna Air Taxi owner and pilot Paul Roderick.

The planes circled Dupre, who was seen only as a tiny figure in a sea of white trudging up "Heartbreak Hill" -- the final hill before base camp -- towing a sled.

Dupre, who has been on Denali since Dec. 18, will now find himself on the mountain for at least a little longer; the forecast for the mountain in coming days calls for increasing wind and snow.

With nearly 90 days logged on the mountain in search of the summit during the course of four winters, waiting is one thing Dupre is intimately familiar with.

He has enough food and supplies for at least 34 days, according to the expedition.

Expedition manager Stevie Plummer returned to the air taxi depot after the thwarted flight still carrying a salad and six-pack of Twister Creek IPA from Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna, amenities she had planned to present to a vegetable-and-beer starved Dupre at base camp.

In a satellite phone conversation after he summitted, Dupre told an AP reporter he was looking forward to a hot bath, shower, salad and wine when he got off the mountain.

Talkeetna resident and mountaineer Dave Johnston was waiting at the air taxi headquarters too. He had prepared his home sauna and planned to offer it to Dupre when he landed.

In 1967, Johnston was part of a group that was among the first to climb Denali during winter.

He remembered his own pickups from base camp: Once, somebody brought him a jug of milk, which seemed like heaven at the time.

"Man, it tasted real good," he said.

Johnston said he didn't think a few days to decompress at base camp sounded too bad, as long as Dupre had a good tent set up or snow shelter.

"Though it probably looks like the inside of a ping pong ball up there," he said.

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