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Four years after stroke and heart attack, mountain guide solos Denali

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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 had11168185_10153038884471795_4647327177835954563_o 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’.

11168185_10153038887261795_7524243424079589986_o“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.”




Denali ranger describes patrol and memorable summit day

Thursday, July 2, 2015
Andrew Lattimer, doctor and mountain patrol volunteer, descending from Denali's North Summit.  Photo courtesy: Tucker Chenoweth - NPS

Mountain patrol volunteers descending from Denali’s North Summit. Photo courtesy: Tucker Chenoweth – NPS

By: Katie Writer – KTNA

Currently, there are 1,090 people registered to attempt Denali. Of those, 129 are currently on the mountain, and 945 have completed their climbs. As of Thursday, 533 climbers have reached the summit, making the summit rate fifty-six percent.

All fifteen climbers registered for Mt. Foraker have completed their climbs, with six making it to the summit.

This week on the Denali Report, KTNA’s Katie Writer speaks with Mountaineering Ranger Tucker Chenoweth, who is back after patrolling on Denali:


Good weather on Denali for the past three weeks has increased the summit rate from a dismal 0% in May to a soaring 56% in early July.

Mountaineering Ranger Tucker Chenoweth and a team of four volunteers patrolled the mountain from May 26th to June 20th, and saw the dash for the summit that took place when the weather cleared.

“At high camp, I believe, there was a group – call it, like, a “plug of climbers—that had been stuck at “Fourteen Camp.” So, the first window they had, they all went. (more…)

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The National Park Service reports that the remains of a solo Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.  The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb on May 6th.  He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.  No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th, and mountain patrols were not yet in place at the highest camp.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.  Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues”.

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the only death reported thus far in the 2015 Denali climbing season.

Two Idaho Climbers Safe After Mt. Dickey Avalanche

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Mt. Dickey after Monday's avalanche.  Photo by T. Chenoweth - Denali National Park and Preserve

Mt. Dickey after Monday’s avalanche. Photo by T. Chenoweth – Denali National Park and Preserve

The National Park Service reports that two Idaho climbers have been rescued after an avalanche on Mt. Dickey, twelve miles southeast of Denali, in the Alaska Range.  According to a statement from Denali National Park, 27-year-old Saxon Spillman and 24-year-old Michael Wachs, were about 7,500 feet up on the mountain when the avalanche occurred on Monday evening, but neither was caught in the slide.  The pair attempted to climb down after the avalanche, but could not find a safe route.

Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says the climbers signaled a local air taxi pilot by stomping an ‘SOS’ into the snow and waving their arms.  They also activated a GPS locator.  After mountaineering rangers spotted Spellman and Wachs from the air, a search and rescue helicopter was dispatched.  The rescue helicopter, piloted by veteran rescue pilot Andy Hermansky, was able to land on the mountain and pick up the two stranded climbers.

Photos taken by a ranger show that where Wachs and Spellman were was one of few safe places on the face of Mt. Dickey.

Park Service staff have reported an increase in avalanche activity in the Alaska Range following several feet of fresh snow and windy conditions.  Thus far, no major accidents have been reported in the Alaska Range for the 2015 climbing season.

U.S. Army ‘Sugar Bears’ Fly Supplies to Denali

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


On Monday, Army helicopters flew the last round of supplies to Denali base camp for the 2015 climbing season.  The unit, dubbed the “Sugar Bears” is well-known in Talkeetna, and has a history in Alaska of combining training and supply runs.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning went along on the flight and has this story:

There are signs all around of the imminent beginning of Denali climbing season.  The temperature is warming, the mosquitos are back, and the Sugar Bears are in town.  Sugar Bears is the nickname of the U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment’s Bravo Company, based at Fort Wainwright.  If the name conjures up images of breakfast cereal, there’s a good reason. (more…)

NPS Staff Prepare for 2015 Climbing Season

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Last year, climbers attempting Denali had one of the lowest success rates in recent history.  Soon, hundreds more climbers will come to Talkeetna on their way to try to conquer North America’s highest mountain.  More than 700 mountaineers are already signed up for the 2015 climbing season, and that number will continue to grow.  Denali National Park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri says that guided groups are not subject to the sixty day advance registration that most climbers are, so hundreds more are likely to register and attempt the climb.  Guiltier says she would not be surprised if the numbers are around last year’s mark of 1,200, but she does not think they will be significantly higher at this time.

Spring also means training for the mountaineering ranger staff.  Maureen Gualtieri says that rangers have completed rope, avalanche, and medical training, and that aviation training is currently underway.  As climbing season approaches, the National Park Service will receive logistical support from the military to set up the various camps on Denali.

In May, the KTNA news department will begin producing Denali Reports for the 2015 climbing season.

Lonnie Dupre returns safely from historic Denali climb

Friday, January 16, 2015

Climber Lonnie Dupre has returned to Talkeetna after becoming the first soloist to ever summit Denali in the month of January.  While in town, he stopped in to speak with KTNA’s Phillip Manning.

Lonnie Dupre’s historic climb began on December 18th, and he summited Denali on January 11th just after 2:00 pm.  This was Dupre’s fourth attempt at the unprecedented feat of being the first person to climb the mountain solo in January.  Veteran climber Willi Prittie says January is a tough month for climbing in Alaska, when the longest periods of daylight stretch just past six hours.

“You’ve got to be really on top of your self-care, your logistical stuff, and take advantage of every little bit of daylight that you have, and it isn’t any too much in something like January.” (more…)

Weather turns back Lonnie Dupre’s ride home

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

After becoming the first solo climber to reach the summit of Denali in the month of January, Lonnie Dupre will be spending at least one more night on the mountain after weather forced his ride to turn back.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning was along for the attempted pick-up, and has more:

When it comes to getting in and out of base camp on Denali, nearly everyone travels by airplane.  That was the plan on Wednesday.  Climber Lonnie Dupre was expected to reach base camp by the early afternoon, and two planes were going to meet him, caring sponsors, support crew, and reporters.  The weather was clear, but a system was obviously moving in from the south.  After one final check-in with Lonnie Dupre by satellite phone, Talkeetna Air Taxi pilot Paul Roderick set off.

The flight started fairly smoothly, but as the plane entered the Alaska Range, turbulence began to pick up. (more…)

Lonnie Dupre becomes first ever January Denali soloist

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lonnie Dupre on a previous winter attempt of Denali.

History has been made on North America’s highest peak. On Sunday, Lonnie Dupre  became the first solo climber to summit Denali in the month of January.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

The news of Lonnie Dupre’s summit came early on Sunday afternoon. His support team received a message from Dupre’s GPS locator that he had made it to the top of North America’s highest peak.

This attempt to be the first successful January soloist on Denali is Dupre’s fourth.  His previous tries were thwarted by bad weather high on the mountain.  Last Thursday, Lonnie Dupre shared via satellite phone his thoughts on being held back by poor conditions.

“There’s nothing worse than having to stay put, especially when you have eighteen hours of darkness every evening.  It makes for very long nights.  And, of course, just  always having the weather pull the rug out from under you when you were psyched up to go somewhere or do some climbing.” (more…)