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Vol 37  No 17
July 21, 2005


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Memorial prof hits the roof of the continent

Scaling new heights

By Jeff Green

Memorial University professor Dr. T.A. Loeffler holds a Memorial flag at the top of North America’s highest peak on Mount McKinley.

 

A Memorial University professor is back in Newfoundland after reaching the summit of North American’s highest mountain ­ a feat accomplished by only a select few climbers in the world. Dr. T. A. Loeffler, an associate professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, reached the peak of Mount McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve on June 26, 2005.

McKinley is 20,320 (6,194 metres) feet above sea level and has a vertical rise greater than Mount Everest, making it the steepest mountain in the world.

“To put that into perspective, it’s equivalent in height to about 40 Signal Hills stacked on top of one another,” said Dr. Loeffler. Signal Hill is roughly 530 feet above sea level.

Dr. Loeffler was part of an 11-member team who took part in the 32-day expedition, which began June 1. Three instructors from the US-based organization the National Outdoor Leadership School led them up the mountain. The trip cost $10,000 ­ paid out of her own pocket. AppleCore Interactive of St. John’s also sponsored the adventure.

“Standing on the summit was very emotional. I probably could have sobbed up there for hours if I wasn’t worried about contacting frostbite from the tears and if I could have caught my breath enough to cry,” said Dr. Loeffler, an avid outdoor adventurer and filmmaker who has climbed peaks in the Himalayas, Mexico and the Canadian Rockies.

Only 50 per cent of the roughly 1,200 mountaineers who will attempt to scale Mount McKinley this year will actually reach the highest summit.

That’s because of the harsh climate conditions in that part of the world. Mount McKinley is considered by experts to be the coldest mountain in the world. Temperatures dipped from 30 Celsius at some points during the day to minus 36 Celsius at night and frigid winds whipped up snow to create blinding conditions.

“The terrain is also so steep in places that if you fell it would be catastrophic,” said Dr. Loeffler. “There is no room for error when you are traversing certain areas. You have to watch for falling ice or rocks.”

Dr. T.A. Loeffler and her team ascending the fixed lines on Karsten’s Ridge on Mount McKinley.

 

Dr. Loeffler joined the expedition after visiting Alaska last year and seeing the huge mountain for the first time. “I wanted to challenge myself both physically and mentally,” she said. “Denali looked impossible when I first saw her. I’ve always wanted to be an athlete and train hard for something. I would have loved to be an Olympian if I’d had the talent. Instead, Denali is my Olympics because I do have mountaineering talent; because I wanted to see what happens when I push myself to and beyond all of my preconceived limits.”

Dr. Loeffler began training for the arduous trip last August, following an intense physical and mental program. She worked out 20-25 hours per week, completing strength and cardio exercises, yoga and step aerobics with a “60-pound backpack that was at least half my weight.”

Dr. Loeffler said her team only stopped and rested five days during the 32-day adventure.

Despite the hard work, she said the trip was more exhilarating than exhausting. “One morning we were up at 2 a.m. because we needed to move our gear. The sun was rising at that point, because at this time of the year in Alaska it never gets dark. It was just magical. It was crisp and clear. We were up so high. I was amazed with the scenery.”

Dr. Loeffler said her immediate plans include returning to teaching but admits it won’t be long before she tackles another adventure. “Maybe scaling Mount Everest or mountains in South America or circumnavigating the province in a sea kayak,” she said with a wide smile. “Getting to the peak of Denali was just an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it. For now I’m just coming down off the high ­ literally!”

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