Father and son conquer Mount McKinley

Lisa Depies
Dr. Paul Rudy, right, of Geneseo and his son, Joe, pose at the top of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The father and son duo reached the summit on June 23.

On June 23, Dr. Paul?Rudy of Geneseo and his son, Joe, reached the top of the United State’s highest peak, Mount McKinley.

Located in the Alaskan Range, Mount McKinley (also known as “Denali”) rises 20,322 feet above sea level.

Rudy’s quest to summit Mount McKinley started several years prior on a ski trip to Galena with his college friend, Chris Urgo.

“We were talking, and Chris said he would like to climb up to Mt. Everest’s base camp,” said Rudy.

“Everest is a long way away, and it costs a lot to climb it, so I started looking around on the Internet and found Mount McKinley. I thought ‘That’s a real mountain’ and the price was more reasonable.”

Two years ago, Rudy and Urgo traveled to Alaska to climb McKinley. Working with guides from the company Mountain?Trip Guides, the pair made it to the 17,000 feet high camp.

The camp is the last one climbers hit before heading to the summit. “We got there, and the weather was so bad, we weren’t able to summit,” said Rudy.

The pair tried to wait out the weather, but had no luck. “We had to come back down. It was disappointing, but I believe things happen for a reason. Not making it then meant I was able to go this time with my son,” said Rudy.

To prepare for the trip, Rudy lifted weights, biked and ran. “I’d also load my 60-pound pack and walk along the Hennepin Canal,” said Rudy.

He encouraged his son, a 2005 Geneseo graduate now living in Chicago, to run the Chicago Marathon in preparation for the trip.

The father-son pair flew from Chicago to Anchorage before flying to Talkeetna near the base of Mount McKinley.

Before climbing, guides scrutinized every piece of the climbers’ equipment to ensure it was the proper materials for the climb.

“The temperature on the mountain ranged from 10 degrees below freezing to just above freezing,” said Rudy. Though it’s cold, UV levels are intense, and climbers would wear 100 SPF sunblock.

Their climbing group consisted of eight climbers and three guides. Because McKinley is considered one of the top summits in the world, the mountain attracts many international climbers. “Our group had climbers from places like England and Australia,” said Rudy.

Traveling the West Buttress route up the mountain, the climb took approximately 18 days.

“We walked a lot on glaciers, and we always camped on snow and ice,” said Rudy.

Camps on the mountain are established every 3,000 feet. Once a camp was reached, climbing groups would spend time at that altitude to allow themselves to acclimatize.

Acute mountain sickness is a constant threat to climbers, who must allow their bodies time to adjust to the thinner mountain air.

Climbers would regularly check their oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter, said Rudy. “When I reached the summit, my oxygen level was at 70 percent. If you came into the hospital at that level, we’d put you on a vent. On the mountain, it’s just part of life,” he explained.

Because of its size, Mount McKinley creates its own weather system, said Rudy. June is considered the best time to climb the peak. “If you go earlier in the year, it’s too cold, and if you go later, the warm temperatures make the glacier unsafe,” he said.

Travelers wear snow shoes and are roped together for safety. “You’re basically walking on a big river of ice, tied together like dog mushers, except you’re the dogs,” said Rudy.

From camp at 17,000 feet, the climb to the top takes approximately nine hours.

Reaching the summit, the climbers were greeted with high visibility and zero degree weather, which is warm for the mountain.

“When I didn’t make it to the summit on the first trip, it was very frustrating. I?enjoyed the trip more the second time,” said Rudy.

Dr. Paul Rudy's face shows the results of cold weather while climbing Alaska’s Mount McKinley.