Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Arctic visitor for Polar Fest - Explorer Lonnie Dupre

Last month, polar explorer Lonnie Dupré attempted to climb Denali — Mount McKinley in Alaska — and be the first solo climber to accomplish that in January — but harsh winds forced him back down the mountain before reaching the summit
Last month, polar explorer Lonnie Dupré attempted to climb Denali — Mount McKinley in Alaska — and be the first solo climber to accomplish that in January — but harsh winds forced him back down the mountain before reaching the summit.
All he needed was 13 hours of good weather to complete the journey, but with 80-100 mile per hour winds, that break never came. After spending six days in a snow cave at 17,000 feet, and retreating back down the mountain, he says the trip was still a success.
“All of my equipment worked and I was in good spirits,” he said Thursday night when he spoke to community members as part of Polar Fest activities. The Detroit Lakes library sponsored the event, in part from the library’s Legacy funding from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage fund.
And though the weather was a deal-breaker for him this year, Dupré, 49, said he plans to attempt the climb again next January.
“I already forgot about the hardships,” he said with a laugh.
Once he decided to go ahead with the Denali climb, Dupré and three friends climbed the mountain in May to map it out and strategically leave food and gas for his stove behind for him to recover during his January climb.
Working toward the 20,300-foot summit of Denali, one of the men suffered a pulmonary edema and had to be taken down the mountain before reaching the top, but the remaining men took 13 days to climb the mountain and three to come back down.
Then starting in June, Dupré started training in Colorado, climbing icefalls. He worked at home also, using a Stairmaster. Born and raised in Minnesota, Dupré now lives in Grand Marais.
During his Thursday presentation, Dupré brought along the ice axes he uses during his climbs, and his boots, which cost about $1,500. Spikes on the heels and toes prevent him from sliding down the icy mountain.
He told about the revamped ladder he also brought on his climb. He had cut out every other rung to lighten the ladder, which he strapped around his waste, to use in case he fell into any crevasses — which, thankfully, he never had to use.
To mentally train for the trip, Dupré said it wasn’t a big deal because he’s been doing these excursions for nearly 30 years, starting when he was 20 years old.
“It’s about being comfortable in your surroundings. I’m where I want to be, so it’s not an issue,” he said. “If you stuck me in the Sahara Desert, I’d probably freak out in a couple hours.”
During his climb, Dupré had five hours of daylight, using a headlamp the remainder of the time. He ate a 5,000-calory-per-day diet during the climb.
During the night when he slept and sought protection from the weather, Dupré built snow caves along the way. He would dig down about four feet and then place ice blocks over the top of the four-foot-wide caves. There would be an opening at the front that was wide enough to get his shoulders through and then he would close that with an ice block as well, fully enclosing the cave.
If it was packed tightly, Dupré said the temperature inside the cave was about 30 degrees, but when he was “lazy” and didn’t pack the cracks, it would be about 5 below zero in the cave.
It was one of those caves he spent six days in before heading back down McKinley.
It took him about two and a half hours to build his snow cave in winds that blew 80-100 miles per hour and temperatures at 40 degrees below zero. Dupré showed video and audio of his adventures, including about a minute in the high-powered wind.
Not just the weather was a factor, the area around his snow cave was dangerous as well.
“If I fall, it’s a 3,000-foot slide,” he said.
To pass the time over those six days, Dupré said he slept 14 hours at a time — catching up after the five-hour nights he’d get while climbing — listened to the radio, made tea, got water ready for the next day and wrote in his journal. But he didn’t read. Usually, he said, he can read a book in about seven hours, but due to the lack of oxygen or something, he had no desire to read this trip.
After the six-day stay at 17,000 feet, Dupré, who had been in daily contact with a base crew, decided the weather wasn’t letting up and it was time to go back down the mountain without reaching the summit.
He stayed another night at 10,000 feet, and showed a video Thursday night he made of his cave and his feelings at that point in the trip.
“I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would do this — willingly,” he said in the video, causing laugher from the audience and Dupré himself.
“I’m really quite happy with it,” he told the crowd of his trip up Denali. “All my gear and equipment worked out perfectly. And mentally, going solo was fine.”
His fingers were tipped with frostbite, and were tender but the pink is returning now, and he’s about to lose his two big toe nails due to pressure on the front of his boots when he descended the mountain so quickly.
“But that’s OK. I didn’t lose any meaty parts.”
While he didn’t make it to the top, Dupré still set a record, making it to 17,000 feet faster than anyone else has in the past.
The No. 1 question Dupré said he gets about his adventures — and he got it Thursday night as well — is how and where does he go to the bathroom?
“You go very fast,” he with a laugh. And, “you gotta get creative” when stuck in a snow cave for days at a time, finding new places to dig.
Other polar adventures
“I’ve been to the pole a couple times,” he said. The pole being the North Pole, or course.
In 1989, Dupré was part of a joint venture between the United States and the Soviet Union to travel from Alaska to Siberia. The Bering Bridge Expedition included 1,000 miles with sled dogs and on skis. It was to promote peace between the two countries.
He also participated in the Northwest Passage Expedition, covering 3,000 miles on dog sled from Alaska to Manitoba, Canada. They stopped at 13 villages along the way, making their venture the first west to east crossing in winter of the Northwest Passage.
Two of his bigger adventures centered around Greenland. A friend from Australia and Dupré circumvented Greenland by way of sled dogs and kayaks. They made three visits to the island in 1997-2001, dog sledding 3,442 miles, and kayaking 3,075 miles.
In 2006, he and a friend conducted the One World Expedition: Summer Expedition to the North Pole, where they pulled and paddled 600 miles through shifting ice from Canada to the North Pole. It was the first expedition to get to the Pole over sea ice in the summer.
Dupré returned to the area three years later to travel from Canada’s Ellesmere Island, located right next to Greenland, to the North Pole — Peary Centennial North Pole Expedition 2009.
The 650-mile journey took two months to complete. Temperatures that March were about 50 degrees below zero, and the body heat from the men on the venture would fill the valleys with a haze of steam.
Dupré said he and the other men lost 30 pounds on that trip, skiing up to 13 hours a day.
“I haven’t weighed that much since high school.”
Of Greenland, he said, the men who traveled it have decided that because of its size, “it shouldn’t be an island. It should be a continent.”
Polar bear attacks
While on his adventures, Dupré carries a rifle in case of dangerous polar bear encounters. While on the Siberian exploration, he encountered five polar bear attacks.
One night, the men were huddled down in their sleeping bags in their tent for the night when a polar bear ended up on top of them and the tent. And they did what every polar explorer would do — they screamed.
“We were a little freaked out, to say the least,” he said.
They were able to set off a flare and scare the polar bear off.
That wasn’t the scariest polar bear encounter though. Dupré shared for the first time his worst encounter, which happened on that same Siberian trip.
The men had set up camp for the night and were in their tent when they could hear a polar bear outside. Only several yards away, they could see the polar bear was a 1,100-pound old male. His rib cage showed, he was so hungry and starved, and his face was black from losing his facial fur.
Once the polar bear saw the movement in the tent, he got up and started to charge. The men had sent off a few flares to scare the bear off, but due to his age, he was deaf and the flares didn’t faze him.
Instead of having his rifle with him, Dupré had a handgun — a .44-caliber Smith and Wesson — that he grabbed once the flares didn’t scare off the bear.
As the bear charged the two men in the tent, Dupré shot the bear three times before it finally dropped dead — inside their tent.
“I just dropped the handgun and stared crying,” he admitted. “That’s the closest I’ve come to death.”
Climate changes
During his time on Greenland and at the North Pole, Dupré has learned more and more about global warming, the changing climate and what it’s doing to the northern lands of ice.
On each trip back, he finds there are no longer icebergs that were there the last time he was so far north. He said scientists predict in seven years, all of the sea ice will be completely gone, causing many problems with heat from the sun and the extinction of animals like polar bears.
The United State makes up 7 percent of the world population, but uses 36 percent of the world’s resources. Thirty million acres of rain forests are cut each year, many of those forests in Brazil.
“That’s 30 Boundary Waters Canoe Areas a year,” he said.
Dupré said people need to start investing in clean renewable energy, limiting population growth and eliminate the cutting of rainforests.
“We need to reduce CO2 and retain the environment to get through this,” he said.
Many of Dupré’s polar ventures have been sponsored and have been connected to climate and environmental issues — except the McKinley climb, which was “strictly a personal challenge.”
While Dupré paid for his own trip up McKinley, he gets sponsors to support his other trips. The trips to Greenland, for example, cost between $500,000 and $600,000.
For now, Dupré said he has nothing major ahead of him except for the Denali attempt next January again. In the meantime, he gives presentations to schools, environmental groups and others.
He has written several books about his adventures, including one he’s just finishing up that includes the Denali trip last month.

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