By Whitney Archibald
After braving temperatures of -35 degrees, wind storms, exhaustion, and entire days in a tent the size of a twin mattress, Justin B. Hohl, a senior majoring in neuroscience from New Canaan, Conn., and Marcus J. Rampton, a senior majoring in biochemistry from Corvallis, Ore., became the first Americans to climb to the summit of Mt. McKinley in this millennium.
The two experienced climbers decided in March to climb the Alaskan peak in May, giving them little time to prepare. They gathered their equipment and supplies, ran together every day, and trained by climbing the front side of Mt. Timpanogos. Speaking of their preparation, Hohl says, “One of the biggest
obstacles was telling our parents we were going to do this. I was prepared with an arsenal of facts about the precautions we’d take to be safe.”
On May 2 Rampton and Hohl began their trek to the top of Mt. McKinley, the tallest point in North America at 20,320 feet. Each climber packed 140 pounds of equipment and food on his back and his sled. Along the way the pair learned patience and trust as they climbed together in extremes of cold, wind, pain, and exhaustion. Rampton also emphasized another dimension of their climb: “The whole thing was a very spiritual experience. We brought our scriptures and really focused our study on the significance of mountains to the Lord.”
Sixteen days after they started, Hohl and Rampton began to climb the remaining 3,000 vertical feet to the summit. Rampton showed symptoms of acute mountaineering sickness after the first thousand feet, and after the next thousand feet his pain intensified. They were about to turn back when Rampton said, “Justin, I have to summit.” Looking back on the experience Rampton added, “We didn’t know we were going to summit until we actually saw it.”
Reaching the summit was an emotional experience for both climbers. Hohl remembers, “When we got to the top, I didn’t expect it, but all of a sudden I started crying. It wasn’t a convenient time to cry, because it was five degrees below zero.”
According to the National Park Service, only 50 percent of those who attempt the climb are successful. While Hohl and Rampton feel honored to be the first Americans to summit in this millennium, they agree that it’s more important that they were the first full expedition to reach the top of McKinley this yearothers who made it to the top summitted individually. “We were a great team,” says Rampton.