One Man's Paradise

Escape from Lucania

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Kluane Icefield, Yukon

In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America (17,150 ft). The mountain had seen only one attempt, that required a 100 plus mile approach with pack horses, crossing rivers and glaciers, uncharted terrain.  The leader of that failed expedition deemed the mountain “impregnable.” Nevertheless, he brought back photographs, which only motivated Brad Washburn to attempt he mountain, although in a different style.

Washburn had found three other young climbers. It was his idea to approach the mountain from Valdez, with the help of a bold bush pilot. That expedition turned into one of the greatest epics of mountaineering in Alaska. When Bates and Washburn landed on the Walsh Glacier the landing gear of the plane got stuck in the slushy surface of the glacier. Only after several heroic efforts, which involved ditching all non-essential gear, was the pilot able to take off, and there was no question, he would not come back with the other two climbers or pickup Washburn and Bates.

What would they do? Attempt the mountain, or find the quickest way back to civilization, which was at least 100 miles away?

David Roberts meet with Washburn and Bates, when they were in their nineties and wrote a pretty gripping tale about their adventure, which has everything from 3 left boots and only one right one, to grizzlies, and most of all a close friendship between two young men in dire straits.

They say there is no more terra incognita on this planet. Everything has been mapped. That may be true. But there are still forbidden places on Earth that have seen few or no human foot prints. The Saint Elias range is one of those places: vast, cold, and almost inaccessible. Today, you can take scenic flights across the Kluane Icefield and see endless glaciers and mountains, assuming the weather is cooperating, which is not all that often. Sometimes the glaciers feed raging rivers, sometimes they calf right into the Gulf of Alaska. That was the place, where Washburn and Bates found themselves after being stranded on the Walsh Glacier.
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Into the Wild

On role models

Yesterday, I was asked the question „Do you have any role models?“. Well, as a teenager certainly there were rock stars, athletes, my parents and friends I looked up to. Today? I had to think. Then there were two gentlemen that came to my mind. Not that I want to be like them, but there is a common quality in both of them that I admire.

© Masatoshi Kuriaki

© Masatoshi Kuriaki

First, Masatoshi Kuriaki, also known as the Japanese Caribou, walked once from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay. He summited Denali in the summer, he soloed the same mountain in the winter, as well as his neighbor Mt Foraker. Then he set his eyes on Mt Hunter. In eight attempts he spent months on time on the mountain in the deepest of winter. I am not sure where Masa is today, as he is going quietly about his business. In 2014 he reached the 12,000 ft level only to be turned around by ice conditions and high winds, typical Alaska winter mountain weather. Eight times he made the incredible hard, but safe decision to turn back and go home to be with his family.

© Lonnie Dupre

© Lonnie Dupre

Second, Lonnie Dupre, an adventurer, who completed the Northwest Passage on dog sled,  circumnavigated Greenland under his own power, and reached the North Pole twice, once by sled and canoe, and a second time as part of the unsupported human-powered Peary-Henson Centennial Expedition. Recently, Lonnie reached the summit of Denali in January in a solo climb, a first for the month of January. Lonnie had attempted this feat three times before.

I don’t have the ambition to climb a difficult mountain in the winter by myself, but I admire the strong desire to follow a dream and stick to it, even after rejection. In contrast to many other extreme sports, winter solo climbers are on their own. There is no reality TV camera team around, no spectators, and no backup or rewind button in case of a mishap. Even the 10 foot spruce pole strapped to the backpack is no guarantee that you don’t fall into a hidden crevasse. There is no guarantee, period. Taking responsibility for their own actions, that’s what I like about these men.

In the end, it’s not the extreme activity that I find attractive, but the style and the environment in which both athletes follow their dreams.

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One Man's Paradise

The Japanese Caribou

Today we had a visit from Talkeetna Air Taxi, the guys, who drop off climbers on Denali. They came in late from Rohn, a sketchy unattended air strip below Rainy Pass, where they had dropped some fuel barrels for the Irondog racers. We started chatting and they told us that they just had dropped a Japanese climber, who is trying for the sixth time to solo Mount Hunter in the winter.

In the Cloud

In the Cloud

Masatoshi Kuriaki has been climbing in Alaska since 1998 spending over 730 days in the mountains, mostly in the winter. He is married, has kids and lives in Japan. He received the nickname “The Japanese Caribou” after walking 860 miles from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay.

Imagine…

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