Grand Marais arctic explorer Lonnie Dupre is poised to take the summit of Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali. His support manager is Hovland resident Tom Surprenant. Who was interviewed by KTNA FM Community Radio in Talkeetna, AK, on Tuesday, January 18.
In this edited version, Surprenant said it has been cold and windy on the mountain but that Lonnie is used to dealing with minus 50 degrees temperatures and 100 mph winds when he was heading to the North Pole.
Surprenant: I talked to him about two hours ago. He’s dug in a ranger trench at 14,200. The plan was today to try to get to 17,200, but they had some high winds up there today, so he took a rest day.
Surprenant said the day before the interview Lonnie ran in to very high winds.
Surprenant: He estimated probably 80, 85 mile an hour winds around Windy Corner. You know, he’s pulling a sled; he’s got a 14 foot aluminum ladder around his waist. Pretty much double ice-axed in on the side and wait until the gusts died down and then he’d move another 20 feet and do it again. Well, he had that cold snap just a couple of days ago and he had about 52 below the one night. He’s in a ranger trench or a snow cave, so the temperatures in there were probably in the high 20s, so he was very comfortable.
There’s not a lot of daylight time in Talkeetna, but the days are getting longer.
Surprenant: To start, we were just doing the six hours, but now we’re getting a little bit more daylight and we’ve got a full moon tonight or tomorrow night, so we’ll have the opportunity if it’s clear skies that we’re going to start to push it into the twilight hours. But, when he first started, when you have temperatures, you know, 40 to 50 below, being out in it for six or seven hours is about all you want to be.
Surprenant said they have a rough goal time line to summit, but there is some leeway.
Surprenant: There’s never been a summit in January by a solo climber, and you know that’s the overall goal, but the goal right now it’s January 18, he’s at 14, 200, if we get to 17,200 in the next couple days, we’ll be poised to do a summit. So, I had a rough prediction that we’d summit probably 24th or 25th of this month, and if we don’t, you know, if he does get held up by weather, we’re going to stick it out until he does summit. We’ve got 28 days of food, full rations; we could probably extend that to 42 days. So, we’ve been on the mountain 12 days.
The Talkeetna community turned out to wish Lonnie good luck. Suprenant said it meant a lot.
Surprenant: We were, you know, well received, and met a lot of great people in Talkeetna. Right before he left, just a number of people we’d just met had given him some mementos and incense and some things to carry to the mountain to give him good luck, and that really helps. We’re sending him all the positive energy we can.
One of the good luck signs Lonnie uses is the raven. Suprenant tells this story:
Surprenant: And he’s got two raven feathers on the back of his wind suit that he has that he carries with him. The first day we’d flown up just to check out how he was doing, and I noticed there was a raven following him, and that night when I talked to him on the phone, he said, “Yeah, I saw that raven.” You know, and I said, “Yeah, that’s good juju, man.” So, that’s—but, yeah, he had befriended a raven when he was up in the arctic, or he was up in Greenland, and he was sitting on a rock and he was on one of his expeditions which happened to be 22 months long over three years and they were kind of despondent and down and, you know, this raven sat next to him on the rock and had some stuff around its leg and it had some stuff around its leg, you know, some fish line and stuff, and the raven let him take the fish line off, you know, his foot. Then the raven took off and circled above him and circled and then came back and sat next to him on the rock.
The KTNA interviewers asked the obvious question, why is Lonnie doing this?
Surprenant: Yeah, that’s a million-dollar question. I don’t think I can answer it for him, but I think if you are an explorer and adventurer and there’s a certain part within someone, you know, I can understand it but I can’t explain it.
Tom Surprenant closed the interview with a shout out to the locals.
Surprenant: Yeah, I just like to say hey to everybody at WTIP radio, all the people down at the Gunflint Tavern, and yeah, everybody out there, just thinking about you guys and thanks for all the positive energy you’re sending up here.
WTIP news sends a big thank you to the folks at KTNA community radio in Talkeetna, AK.