Thursday, June 04, 2009

Future Denali (Mt. McKinley) Climber Johnny Collinson Of Snowbird, Utah Becomes Second Youngest Person To Summit Mt. Everest

Alaskans need to get to know the name of Utah teenager Johnny Collinson. Because, if all goes according to plan, he'll be making Alaska news before 2009 is done. He's already summitted the highest peaks on two continents, and Denali (Mt. McKinley) is next on his list, according to his website.

But Denali will actually be a slight step backwards from the two previous mountains he summitted. One of them is Mt. Aconcagua (22,841 ft) in South America. And the other - a just concluded summitting of Mt. Everest (29,030 ft). According to KSL Channel 5, he is the youngest person (other than a Sherpa) to successfully climb the mountain, which overall makes him the second youngest ever. KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

Collinson, who's 17, lives at Snowbird, where his parents work. For the past 10 years, he's dreamed of climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. And Mt. Everest, being the highest, was at the top of his list. On the day he flew to Asia to begin his Everest adventure, he turned 17.

The Sherpas on Mt. Everest were skeptical of such a youthful climber. "They weren't sure what to expect of me, but they saw that I was really strong so I got the nickname 'The White Sherpa,'" Collinson said.

The most difficult part was pushing himself to get started each morning. On summit day, it was 40 below zero. "It was so cold that my feet were getting really cold, but I knew if I stuck it out until the sun came up, that I could make it," he said. But he quickly warmed up when he looked around, and not only could see that everything was below him, but could actually see the curvature of the earth itself. A rather intoxicating feeling to be standing on top of the world.

Collinson is an old hand at climbing. He was on skis at 2 1/2, and at the age of 4 he summitted Mt. Rainier. He has gone on to climb 200 large western mountains, upon which on many he holds the youngest age record. His goals are listed at the very top line of his website, and you can see that Denali (20,320 ft) is next on his list. This shows advance preparation, because no sane person would want to attempt Denali in winter. So he's doing it during high summer. Even then, it's no tropical paradise; temperatures as low as -22F and windchills as low as -59F have been recorded during the summer. But few climbers are better prepared to tackle this relatively unforgiving mountain. In early May, William Hearne of Fairport, NY, found out how unforgiving it can be; he did not return.

Mount McKinley is commonly referred to by its Athabaskan name Denali, which is the name currently recognized by the State of Alaska. When Denali National Park and Preserve was established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, December 2nd, 1980, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain back to Denali. However, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names maintains the name McKinley, ostensibly to help visitors avoid confusion between the mountain and the park. Use of the name "McKinley" remains common, particularly in the Lower 48; however, Alaskans and mountaineers generally use the name "Denali" to refer both to the park and to the mountain. A partial list of Denali climbers is available HERE.

But Collinson is not skimping on his conventional education. "I'm taking independent study classes from BYU, so I was doing homework at base camp," Collinson said.

We look forward to his visit to our state and wish him luck.

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