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Above the clouds

January 20, 2009


Rock climber on Mt. McKinley.

Dean Einerson climbs the steep rock of Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley.

Photo: courtesy of Matt Giambrone

UMD student ascends Mount McKinley

By Jordan Hanson

Seventeen thousand feet up Mount McKinley in Alaska, Dean Einerson sat in the snow with a cup of soup, looking out over the tops of the clouds below. After facing high winds, freezing temperatures, and storms, he found himself just below the summit of the mountain that has the highest vertical rise in the world.

"The journey to the top is always the most interesting part," says Einerson, a graduate assistant in the environmental education program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD). "It's something about having to overcome all of the doubts and fears of the climb."

Einerson made that trip in 2008 with climbing partner and fellow UMD alumnus Matt Giambrone. When Einerson started as an undergrad at UMD, he had never climbed before. He attributes much of his transformation from novice to expert to his experiences with the UMD climbing facilities and the Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP) Fitness Center.

"Our climbing program is one of the best in the U.S.," says Einerson. "We have a world-class training and guiding faculty, and they are there to be taken advantage of."

He describes Kaija Webster, the climbing program director, as a personal mentor. Webster has shown thousands of people how to climb, and Einerson says she taught him a lot of important lessons about safety and perseverance.

Outdoor adventure resources

The Recreational Sports Outdoor Program works with many different facilities at UMD that promote recreation, fitness, and exploration of the outdoors. RSOP operates out of various facilities within the Sports and Health Center (SpHC) as well as external locations on and off campus. Facility users must carry the appropriate pass at all times, and facility hours are subject to change by program need.

The Center for Outdoor Adventure (COA) on the Twin Cities campus provides participants with alternative recreation experiences revolving around the great outdoors. Each semester, COA offers a full schedule of trips and clinics to introduce participants to the fundamentals of outdoor adventure skills and environmental ethics. Activities range from backpacking to ice climbing, both locally and nationally.

At least twice a year, Einerson tries to make a big climbing trip to different mountains around the world. He has climbed all over North America and in Ecuador, Kenya, and Central Europe, with upcoming trips planned for the Canadian Rockies and the Eiger Mountains in the Alps.

To train for difficult climbs, Einerson uses all of the resources provided by UMD and the surrounding area. The climbing wall, weight room, fitness center, and track at UMD, along with the help of a personal trainer, aid him physically. And the natural terrain of the Lake Superior's north shore couldn't be better for ice climbing practice. According to Einerson, the best ice climbing is at Orient Bay on Lake Nipigon (about 75 miles northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario). But he warns that preparation is crucial, due to the inherent danger of climbing.

"It's important to remember the consequences of what you are doing," he says. "I have never been to Alaska when someone hadn't recently died or been seriously injured."

The next mountain on Einerson's horizon is his master's degree—and eventually Ph.D.—in environmental education. He is currently teaching class as part of an assistantship, and eventually he would like to teach undergraduate students full-time in outdoor education or therapeutic recreation. This spring he will teach a mountaineering course with the RSOP, and will use the snow banks in a UMD parking lot to replicate the icy sheers of a mountain. He is also studying the motivation of rock climbers.

Einerson recommends that anyone at UMD interested in climbing should visit with the people in the RSOP and attend climbing clinics. That's how he got his start, and it helped steer him to the top of Cassin Ridge along one of the most challenging routes up Mount McKinley.

Jordan Hanson is a communications major at UMD.

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University of Minnesota, Duluth