Women's group plans Mount McKinley climb

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Eight women will test themselves against North America's tallest peak in a rare all-women's guided expedition up Mount McKinley.

Four female guides, including two from Alaska, will lead the climbing team, which includes a student, a teacher, a nurse and a hairdresser.

"If energy and attitude will get you to the top, these ladies are going to fly on up," said Todd Rutledge, co-owner of Mountain Trip, the Alaska-based guiding company that helped organize the trip.

Lead guide Kirsten Kremer, 33 of Chickaloon, said her cohorts seemed excited, despite rain that grounded them in Talkeetna on Saturday.

"For most of the people, this is the most serious trip they've ever signed up for," she said.

Women account for about 10 percent of the climbers who take on Mount McKinley in the climbing season, but it is unusual to see such a large group of them try to summit the 20,320-foot peak together, according to the National Park Service.

As of late last week, nearly 250 climbers were on the mountain, rangers said.

Kim Friedman, 34, a Nevada real estate agent, said she's doing it because she can. Ruth Richter, a nurse about to turn 50, said she's doing it before it's too late.

Scrap-booking consultant and mother of four Marilyn Danowski said she wanted to take care of "unfinished business."

Danowski, 41, of Michigan, spent 21 days on McKinley in 1999 without reaching the top, she said. She was snowed in for five days at the highest camp on the mountain, just below the peak, before turning around. This time, she wants to summit.

All three said they usually climb with men, often for a lack of female partners.

They jumped at the chance to go on an all-women's expedition along the popular West Buttress route.

Annie Bellerose, 22, a college student from Vermont, said the all-female aspect of the trip, not the allure of the mountain, brought her to Alaska just before her college graduation.

"I learned to climb with men," Bellerose said. But then last year, she said, she took an all-women's climbing class and loved it.

"I never felt the pressure to perform in the same way," Bellerose said. "I never felt like I was the slowest, like I was dragging the group."

"Men are more competitive," said Richter, the nurse. "They're always sitting there and comparing times. Women are more supportive of each other."

Each woman will carry a backpack and pull a sled. All the gear combined, which includes enough food for 21 days, weighs 1,400 pounds, Kremer said.

"There's a lot of small girls on the trip," she said. "We're certainly carrying our weight."

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