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Why I’m Climbing the Tallest Mountain in North America

May 13, 2021 by
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For 21 days starting Saturday, my team and I will attempt to climb the tallest mountain in North America — Mt. Denali. Some of you may know it as Mt. McKinley.

At 20,310 feet, it’s the highest point in the world in any direction until you get to get to the skyscrapers of the Andes Mountain Range.

There is, however, one minor difference. Mt. Denali is in Alaska and less than 1,000 miles from the Arctic Circle, so it’s colder. Being this far from the equator has the added benefit of making the air thinner, so at 16,000 feet the oxygen level is only half what it is at sea level.

A quick summit temperature comparison between Denali and Everest illustrates my point well.

  • Mt. Denali Summit (Saturday) — High of -27F; Low of -31F; Wind Chill of -53.
  • Mt. Everest Summit (Saturday) — High of -9; Low of -15; Wind Chill of -31.

So cold and sparse on the O2 — I mean oxygen and not these O2 hydration packets I brought with me — but at least we have sunlight the entire day. Translation: no headlamps and optimal conditions for recharging devices with a solar panel.

Denali is the also the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, which means, we get to carry all of our food, fuel and gear without any support. No porters. No namaste welcome into camp with tea. Backpacks are full and we get to pull a sled with 125 pounds of gear each up a hill, in the snow, and cold, and try not to fall into one of those earthquake like cracks in a glacier.

Seems fun right?

So why do all this?

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept…” — President John F. Kennedy

I’m excited about challenges: physically and mentally.

Setting goals, succeeding or failing along the way is the point. To reach higher than you think is possible, succeed or fail, you’re taking this one life and living it, not for pretend, but for real.

When I left my career in politics, I decided that I would live my life. Live it, in whatever way it presented itself.

And it turns out, I love the challenge of climbing. The mental and physical struggles that drew me to CrossFit, are dialed up to 11 in mountaineering.

CrossFit, it turns out, is the perfect prep for being a mountaineer. Long, tough WODs, teach you how to handle physical stress over long periods, how to keep moving one rep at a time. It’s also the perfect physical preparedness training for the mountains. After all, aren’t we just carrying large loads over long distances (as quickly as possible)?

  • Sample Denali Training WOD
    10 Rounds for Time
    300m run
    50m walking lunge
    50 step-ups (20” all athletes)
    20/14 pound weight vest

CrossFit actually has a strong history in the mountains. Another CrossFitter — Mark Pattinson — is attempting to be the oldest person to climb the seven summits of the world. He’s currently on Everest right now. National Geographic photographer and CrossFitter Cory Richards summited Everest twice, most recently without supplemental oxygen or a sherpa.

Guys like these have laid a foundation for climbing in CrossFit. I hope to build upon that.

My Team
Five total climbers are on my team, and we’ll be going unguided.

  • Jerome Leedy – An experienced mountaineer from Battle Ground, WA, with more than 70 summits across the PNW, Sierra’s, Himalayas, and South America. This all be his second of the Seven Summits. @jeromejleedy
  • Igor Kropotov – A NY film maker born and raised in Siberia, Russia. This will be his third attempt on Denali and our unofficial team lead. This will be his second of the Seven Summits. @igorkropotov
  • Austin Fitzgerald – Coach at CrossFit North Hollywood and co-founder of AdventureFit LA, avid rock climber and this will be his second of the Seven Summits. @austinfitz92
  • Sarah Williams – Professional photographer, rock climber, CrossFitter, co-founder of AdventureFit LA, and unofficial documentarian of the expedition. This will be her first of the Seven Summits. @sarahskyan

So in conclusion

I really need a vacation, mentally. I don’t really enjoy sitting still, so the idea of being on a beach somewhere resting doesn’t really appeal to me. I’d rather chase the sky, wake up to a sunrise painted just for me, a view that’s earned.

So for 21 days — hopefully not more — it’ll be full send.

If you want to keep track of our progress, follow @chalkupmountaineering and @chalkupjlo for updates. You can track our team by following our Garmin map.

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