Lonnie Dupre leaves February 25 for Alaska, to embark on his fifth attempt to summit Begguya (Mt. Hunter, 14,573 feet), in the Alaska Range. “Begguya” means “child” [of Denali] in the native Tanaina language, and is a notoriously difficult peak. It has yet to see a solo winter ascent. Aside from Dupre’s handful of attempts on Begguya, famed Japanese cold man Masatoshi Kuriaki (“The Japanese Caribou”) has made nearly a dozen solo winter attempts himself.
Based in Minnesota, the 59-year-old Dupre holds a penchant for all things cold, particularly polar exploration. He became the first to complete a non-motorized circumnavigation of Greenland, a 6,500-mile expedition by kayak and dog team, and the first west to east winter crossing of the Northwest Passage (3,000 miles) by dog team. Dupre is also an accomplished mountaineer, one of the few to solo Denali (20,340 ft) in winter. He also made the first ascent of Jeannette Peak (10,135 ft) in British Columbia and the first winter ascent of Mount Wood (15,912 ft) in the Yukon, among other climbs.
Of Dupre’s four previous attempts on Begguya, he has made three in winter, two of which were solo, and a fourth in April. “Hunter is just plain old gnarly,” Dupre told Rock and Ice. “It’s extremely difficult. Steep on all sides, heavily corniced, lots of seracs, and because it’s on the front edge of the Alaska Range, it gets walloped by all the storms coming off the sea. It’s tough.”
[Also Read New Route In Alaska’s Hayes Range: DeWilde Style]
Though the main peak of Begguya has yet to see a solo winter ascent, this year Dupre is changing course. He will be attempting to summit with his long-time climbing partner and girlfriend Pascale Marceau, who was with him on the FAs of Jeannette Peak and Wood. The duo is also not targeting the main summit but a slightly lower subpeak, which is known as Mt. Stevens (13,966 ft). Stevens was previously known simply as “South Hunter,” and until it’s christening in 2010 it was the highest unnamed peak in Alaska. It rarely sees ascents, and has yet to see a winter ascent.
Marceau and Dupre plan to be on the mountain for a little over two weeks. They’ll be taking a route up the Southwest Ridge, the same route he and two partners attempted last year (The trio was forced to turn back when one suffered a serious case of frostbite). “We’ll take a steep 2,500-foot chute right out of our base camp, get up on the ridge proper at just under 10,000 feet,” Dupre said. This initial chute is extremely avalanche prone, limiting the duo’s ability to carry extensive gear up. Even a dusting of a couple inches will trigger an avalanche, Dupre said. The pair will both climb and descend this chute at night. After that it’s a low-grade ice climb for another 1,000 feet, up a heavily-crevassed ridge.
The crux of the climb follows, which is around 1,000 feet of mixed climbing at 60 degrees. “It’s not that technically difficult,” Dupre admitted, “but when you compound it with limited daylight and extreme cold, it gets tough. Rope handling at minus forty isn’t easy.”
“Winter climbs are just different,” he added. “The first few times you go for it, often you’re really just projecting the mountain. You finally narrow it down to a route you feel is safe enough and something that can be done with a limited amount of light and the extreme cold. “
The natural beauty one sees during winter climbs is also unique, said Dupre, and is a major factor in their appeal for him. “When you go to the Alaska Range in winter, there’s something about extreme cold that changes the lighting on the horizon. There are magentas, pinks, lavenders, that you don’t see on warmer summer climbs,” he said.
While he’s no stranger to discomfort and hardship on mountain expeditions, Dupre admits he and Marceau have no desire to take unnecessary risks in this or any expedition. “We enjoy life. We wanna stick around as long as we can,” he said, laughing. The duo picked the southwest ridge because Dupre said he feels all other sections of the mountain are too difficult and dangerous, after his past experiences. “We’re not going out there to suffer or be uncomfortable,” he said. “I’ve never believed too much in speed ascents or trying to make things as difficult as possible. To me, it’s about going out there and having a good objective, having fun, having a good old fashioned adventure.”
He and Marceau plan to arrive in the Alaska Range by March 2, and hope to be back from Begguya and flying out by March 21.