MARQUETTE -Dr. Jeff Gephart of Marquette has done more than a few extreme things in his lifetime, from ice diving to hunting in Tajikistan, but he has at least one more thing he's like to cross off his list. He wants to climb the tallest mountain in North America, Alaska's Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. Gephart departs today and starts his ascent Sunday.
Gephart is not new to the sport by any means.
"My brother and I started climbing back in the '70s," he said.
Dr. Jeffrey Gephart of Marquette trains for an upcoming attempt to scale Mount McKinley in Alaska. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
He started his training for Denali in January, which included completing two pre-climbs in Washington state at Mount Baker. The pre-climbs are important to practice skills such as roping up, traveling on ice and glaciers, winter camping, functioning in cold environments and getting used to the altitude.
At home, he tries to climb every day whether it be Mount Marquette, Mount Menard or other unnamed peaks in the area.
Other endurance training involves pulling a 60-120 pound sled behind him down the sandy beach by his home while wearing a 65-80 pound pack on his back, for 3 to 6 miles. He also cross-trains by playing tennis, hockey, snowshoeing, skiing, hiking five hours at a time, and mountain biking 20-30 miles or more at a time.
He conditions his body to sleeping in the cold by sleeping in his "cold room" at his house with no heat, and windows open.
Friends and family of Gephart have been supportive of his undertaking, including cheering him on when he might get tired of training.
"A lot of encouragement came from friends with health problems," said Gephart, "You have to do it when you can."
Gephart was recommended by friends to hook up with the American Alpine Institute, a guide group, where he was matched with a team of eight others, including three very experienced climbers.
Denali is a dangerous mountain, Gephart said. This time of the season is extremely cold, getting into negative numbers, which can be combined with high winds, storms and wide crevasses. The team success rate of making it to the summit is only around 50 percent.
Gephart said "summit fever" is a problem with some people who climb mountains like Denali. "Summit fever" is when people try to fight through altitude sickness and other complications when they shouldn't keep going.
"You can only do what the mountain lets you do," said Gephart, " It's important that summit fever not take hold."
"We run out of food and fuel at 21 days," said Gephart, "You're mentally done after 21 days if you make it that long."
Freeze-dried food and melted ice and snow will be on the menu for the climb. Along with fuel for the climb, equipment and clothing are key to making it to the top. Gephart will wear many layers, including a beanie, hat, two or three hoods, glacier glasses, ski goggles when it gets windy, sunscreen, face mask, thermal underwear, wind jacket and shirt, a parka with goose down, mountaineering boots and crampons. Not to mention the equipment he will be carrying, including snowshoes, a harness, ropes, axes and poles.
Danielle Pemble can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 256.