Winter climb takes two to McGinnis' peak

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2006

Two Juneau-Douglas High School graduates recently summitted the 4,200-foot-plus Mount McGinnis, a feat they might find easy in summer but not so in winter.

Jordan Sanders said teamwork enabled the 20-year-old and his 21-year-old friend Aaron Smith to complete the summit Jan. 11. The entire trip took three days.

"It was very foggy and we had trouble locating the (Mount McGinnis) trail," Sanders said. "It was difficult to get a good footing with our boots."

The Mount McGinnis Trail starts where the West Glacier Trail ends. Summer enables hikers to scramble up the exposed granite to the top with little difficulty. Now the area is blanketed in snow. What once seemed easy they found difficult.

They left early on Tuesday and climbed until just before dark, Smith said. There they spent the night above the tree line on a relatively calm night. The next day they struggled up the increasingly steep route. The wind grew more ferocious and chilled them.

They had to beat winter darkness, Smith said. There was little light remaining. Finally they reaching the summit at about 4:00 p.m.

"At that point we slid down, which was exhilarating," Sanders said. "We just made it back in time."

Smith is a University of Alaska Fairbanks student taking classes to enable him to begin the nursing program, he said. He holds a Municipal Fire Control Degree.

"Fairbanks is ridiculously cold," Smith said. "Juneau gives us the opportunity to do these adventures without freezing to death."

Both worried about avalanche danger. They spoke to others in the community to learn more of the dangers. Much of the planning was done by Sanders, a University of Alaska Southeast student who has taken several mountaineering courses.

"I was the leader of the trip," Sanders said. "We had a really good understanding of each other's needs. He knew to listen to me."

Mount McGinnis can be dangerous in winter. Two snowboarders died in an April, 1999 avalanche. A man and a woman were participating in a helicopter expedition when the avalanche occurred.

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