by: Katie Writer
The last climber is off of Denali, and the summer season is now officially over. Out of the thousand-plus climbers that attempt the mountain each year, there are always a few exceptional stories of perseverance and courage. KTNA’s Katie Writer spoke with Doug Nidever about his climb and how it marked an important milestone in his road to recovery.
Doug Nidever has worked as a Professional Guide for the American Mountain Guides Association for decades, guiding rock climbing all around the world. At the age of 58, Doug suffered from a stroke and heart attack that his doctors were not certain that he would survive. With the support of family and friends, Doug slowly recovered.
Four years later at age 62, Doug soloed Denali. He and a friend had started the West Buttress route together, but turned around at 11,000 feet. Something did not feel right to his climbing partner. Doug flew back to the Lower 48 and spent one restless night at his June Lake, California home. The next day, Doug returned to Alaska to finish what he had started. And that was to give his best shot at reaching Denali’s Summit.
In a interview with Doug shortly after coming off the mountain, Doug reflects on early stages of his recovery. He had to relearn everything, and he means everything.
“Basic things, how to go to the bathroom. You know, you think that would be hardwired into your body, but having to re-learn that. Having to learn how to cook and read and drive and climb and spell and this and every aspect of life.”
In the midst of re-learning life, Doug decided that he was not going to settle for the life in a wheelchair that doctors thought was going to be his reality. Instead, Doug chose to pursue his “gold standard” of living through his passion for mountaineering.
“Something extra difficult for me to go do something this big by myself with the uncertainties …what have I learned, what have I forgotten, what’s floating in the mix out there…just wanting to see where the boundaries lie.”
Doug says completing the climb by himself was actually a great opportunity to see just where he was at with his recovery from his stroke and heart attack.
“It’s a good completion of a four year struggle to get back to some sense of normality…finding out that I can understand, I can make good decisions, and I can do this somewhat correctly and have it work out.”
In addition to the need for physical fitness, Doug says those decision making skills are critical to safe travel in such an environment where crevasses are a constant hazard.
“One, these are the biggest crevasses on the planet that we live and if you fall in you are probably not coming out. There are a hundred and one different components that go into the decision making there.”<Doug Crevasse Danger>
Doug partially credits his success to his own stubbornness. Slowly but surely, he progressed 1000’ a day with only a single load carry. Most climbers shuttle their gear back and forth on the way up. Doug jokes that he’s “kind of a lazy guy,” knowing that his choice of travel was unique. All of the perseverance in the world only matters in the Alaska Range if Mother Nature cooperates, however. Fortunately for Doug, the weather held, and he made it to the summit on a chilly midnight in late June. After a few minutes, alone, at the highest point in North America, Doug safely descended to his camp at 17, 200’.
“You know, so I got to sleep from 4 am until late afternoon. And mill around and see what body parts are sore and what still worked and what didn’t. A little bit of loss of elevation brings your energy level so far up.
Doug’s solo climb of Denali gives him an appreciation for his own recovery.which he says wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his friends and family.
“Nobody stands alone very well.”