So close, and yet so far: Weather delays solo Denali climber's return

TALKEETNA, Alaska -- 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.