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At 20,320 feet, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, boasts an extreme vertical rise of 18,000 feet–nearly twice that of Mt. Everest. Thanks to a grant from the G-Movement program—a partnership between Gatorade and the non-profit Action Against Hunger—amateur mountaineer Melanie Miller, 32, will tackle her own personal athletic challenge while raising awareness for one of the world’s greatest challenges: global hunger. We spoke to the Boulder-based skier about her background, training and motivation.
What inspired you to take on the G-Movement Challenge?
I think it’s the opportunity to entwine two things I’m pretty passionate about. The mountains and skiing are two of my loves. The ability to make change and positively impact the lives of those less fortunate then myself would be my other passion. I’ve spent time doing development and philanthropic work in Africa, Asia and here in the States. Hunger is a daily challenge for a shocking number of people globally but most alarming are the statistics here in the U.S. Working with G-Movement has made me more conscience of my choices around food and waste and has made me aware of the impact that all of us can make, individually and collectively, to fight hunger and the symptoms it causes.
Why did you decide to climb and ski Denali as your challenge?
Denali has been a mountain that I have been interested in climbing for several years, and recently I’ve been spending more time skiing in the backcountry. The combination of being able to climb and ski Denali while supporting such an important cause felt like an opportunity I could not pass up.
How long have you been skiing?
I’ve been skiing for pretty much the past 10 years–since I moved to Colorado. I skied a bit when I was in college but the “mountains” of Cleveland aren’t super conducive to long steep runs. I like skiing both the backcountry and resorts for different reasons.
What are you doing to prepare for this challenge?
I’ve skied at the resorts in Alaska and a little bit of mellow backcountry but nothing as big or challenging as Denali. To prepare, I’m trying to spend a lot of time in the mountains doing long tours. I went to Argentina on a mountaineering trip in February and trained for the Grand Traverse on Aconcaugua, which was helpful. However, I started a new job in February, and it has destroyed my workouts and training routine, so fingers crossed I’ll be fit enough!
How much equipment do you need to climb and ski down? Will you have a team? What is your gear setup for the descent?
As sad as it is to me, I will be on AT gear. I’m a telemark fan and would prefer to be on that setup, but, because of the sleds we’ll be using to haul our gear, the tele “lunge” adds an extra complexity that isn’t really necessary. All of the equipment and food will fit on our backs and in the sleds. We’ll have guides. I’m going with Mountain Trip out of Ophir, Colorado, but we’ll be carrying all of our own gear.
How long do you estimate the ascent/descent will take?
The ascent will depend on weather and how the whole team acclimatizes. It can be anywhere from two to three weeks. The descent on the other hand will be pretty swift–two to three days, dependent on weather.
Describe an ascent of Denali for the layman. How much is hiking? How much is technical climbing?
We’ll be touring, using skis and skins, for most of the trip. Carrying the sleds and our gear, setting up camp and making progress up the mountain will be fairly non-technical climbing. There will be the navigation of crevasses, which will be a challenge. On summit day, we will likely be carrying our skis and boots on our backs and wearing mountaineering boots with crampons while tied into the rope using ascenders and an ice axe to help with traction, safety and stability. Then, once we hit the summit, it’s all downhill…
What part of the challenge do you expect to be the most difficult?
The cold. I’m pretty nervous about the cold weather. It’s one of coldest mountains around and the weather changes pretty dramatically. So, that and the whole fitness thing and carrying a sled and skiing at 20,000 feet.
How much time do you imagine you’ll spend enjoying the view from the summit?
I’m guessing it will be more like suffering the view from the summit. It will be amazing, I’m certain, but probably not too long as we’ll be high up there and moving against the weather’s uncertainty.
Thank you, Mel. Good luck. Send us a photo from the top!
To support Melanie Miller and donate to Action Against Hunger, click here.