Home North pole ice Casper Doctor Summits Denali; Reached the highest peaks on five continents

Casper Doctor Summits Denali; Reached the highest peaks on five continents

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s not the highest peak, but it’s more difficult.

Last month, Casper Dr. Joe McGinley summited North America’s tallest mountain and while Denali isn’t the tallest peak in the world, it is one of the toughest to climb.

For McGinley, sports medicine physician and founder of McGinley Orthopedics, reaching a peak is nothing new.

His latest conquest, however, marks the fifth time he has reached the highest peak on a new continent. Although he has two more to go, that’s not his goal right now. It’s about savoring Denali’s quest and recovering.

Express route

After all, McGinley took the expressway to Denali. Normal trekking time to the summit of Denali is between 17 and 23 days. McGinley did it in five and a half years. His schedule, and that of his two teammates, did not allow them to make a more “quiet” trip. They had to do it and do it quickly.

And to make it even more difficult, there is no help. Unlike an Everest trek, there are no Sherpas. It’s the climbing team and that’s it. In McGinley’s case, it was just him and two friends.

“I can barely walk,” McGinley said from his home in Casper. “But the reward is absolute beauty, glaciers, colors, being above the clouds and seeing mountain ranges as far as the eye can see.

“The sensory overload of the natural beauty was just amazing,” McGinley continued, describing the sensation of feeling the ground rumble from avalanches and the collapsing of seracs – blocks or columns of glacial ice – even as they stood hundreds of kilometers away.



Preparation

McGinley said his latest conquest was the toughest athletic feat he had ever accomplished, both technically and in terms of conditioning.

To prepare for the high altitudes, he set up a tent over his bed at home in February, which lowered the oxygen level while he slept.

“It was the opposite of a Michael Jackson hyperbolic chamber,” he said, explaining that oxygen was being taken out rather than added.

By the time he was ready for the ascent, he was already sleeping at a simulated altitude of 19,000 feet.

“It takes a lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice and using technology to acclimatize so I don’t have any issues with the altitude at the top,” he said.

“It worked,” he said nonchalantly.

No headaches, no altitude sickness. Tired, yes. But that was to be expected. He did well because he planned well.



Adaptation

There are long-term adaptations a climber can prepare for, and then there are short-term adaptations. Like how fast the climate is changing

At base camp, it is 40 degrees and due to the reflection of the sun on the snow, it is hot.

“You really feel like you’re cooking,” McGinley said. “You’re literally in shorts and a T-shirt on a glacier and sweating.”

But this feeling did not last. He and his team waited until the temperatures were low enough to cross the glaciers above the crevasses. This meant a 3am departure.

Using skis to minimize the risk of falling through the glacier, they hiked five miles across the glacier field. It was nerve wracking because sometimes they could see how far the fall was.

“We couldn’t see the bottom and you just hope the six inch snow bridge holds up as you cross,” he said.

After a while, however, he said he got used to it and didn’t mind the heights, although he knew a fall would have ended his climbing career, not to mention of his life.

Then came the wind, the falling rocks and the ice wall. The 2,000 foot vertical ice wall was still imminent.

“You just watch the climbers every day knowing it’s coming and you’re going to have to climb it with a 60-pound backpack strapped on,” he said.



“Always a surprise”

It’s not like it’s a vacation after Ice Wall Ridge.

“There’s always a surprise beyond Denali,” he said.

McGinley went on to describe places like the highway, the football field and Pig Hill, all unique areas where if a climber isn’t careful, it’s all over.

Take the highway. If you slip there, rest assured, you’re not in the air, but you’re hurtling down the mountain at “full speed” until something “stops you”.

With each level it gets harder, McGinley said.

Ironically, he described the toughest part of the climb as “not the easiest thing” before calling it “brutal”.

It’s because the location is fooling you. You think you have reached the top once past the ice wall. But you still have a long way to go.

“It’s literally a snowy ice ridge with wind all the way to the top,” he said. “It’s by far the most mentally intimidating thing I’ve ever done.”

He didn’t want to leave once at the top. So he took pictures and savored the experience for as long as he could.



“Seeing the Stars”

“So you do all of that and then you bring it back down,” he said, laughing.

McGinley groaned as he talked about getting all the supplies to the bottom.

“I felt pain like I had never felt before,” he said. “I mean, I was literally seeing stars.”

He said he always thought it was just a saying, but his feet were “so destroyed” that with every step he took he said he was seeing stars.

And after

Understandably he’s not interested in talking about what’s next, but said McGinley heard the question because he still had two peaks to go to reach the highest peaks on each continent.

“Antarctica is next,” he said. “I’m taking them one at a time and then we’ll see how it goes.”

Mount Vinson is the highest peak in Antarctica and although it is not a technically difficult climb, the cold weather makes it dangerous. Temperatures can drop as low as 40 degrees below zero at the top of Mount Vinson.

McGinley says he’s shooting for January or February 2023 to make that trip. And to make it more interesting, he said he would also ski to the South Pole.

After that, Everest is a possibility.

“I don’t want to make assumptions or be arrogant about it. And I want to take them one at a time,” he said. “If I succeed in Antarctica, we will talk about Everest.”

Whether he does or not, McGinley said so far it’s been worth it, despite the pain.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime adventures and the locations are always beautiful,” he said.



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