ANCHORAGE (AP) -- With no fanfare, climbers Dave Hart and Paul Barry are slowly and steadily going where no climber has gone -- to the top of the 20 highest peaks in Canada and Alaska.
Over the past decade, the two climbers have knocked off an assortment of 17,000-to-19,000-foot peaks. Hart is five shy and Barry is seven short of climbing the Top 20.
They left Anchorage recently for a two-week expedition on 17,130-foot King Peak, the fourth-highest in Canada.
''It's a hell of a story,'' said Bradford Washburn of Lexington, Mass. Washburn, 91, is the dean of Mount McKinley and a pioneer of many first ascents of Canada and Alaska's highest peaks.
''These guys have picked out at least a half-dozen of the most difficult of all peaks. They're going right after the tough ones. I am sure it has never been done. It's quite exciting.''
Hart and Barry have been remarkably determined, patient and lucky in their pursuit. They have summited on all the expeditions they set out on together, despite substantial difficulties just getting to the shoulders of the remote mountains they climb.
They have overcome the vagaries of weather and a long list of other problems that tend to befall expeditions to the summits in the wilderness of Alaska and Canada.
Through all of this, Hart said, they have had only one ''close call,'' though Hart's climbing career got off to a rocky start that he's battled to overcome.
''I was faced with two choices: give up the sport I loved or learn from it and move on,'' Hart said. ''I chose the latter. I cannot change the past, only learn from it and move on as I've done.''
Perhaps because they're both North Slope engineers.
Hart approaches climbing like an engineer; he sees a problem to which a solution must be found. He devotes tremendous time to researching what attempts have been made on each peak, what obstacles were met and what direction any new attempt might take to maximize success. Route selection and trip planning are key.
''If you want to be successful, you go with Dave because his success rate is so high,'' said Harry Hunt, a veteran Alaska climber.
The success rate on Mount McKinley is about 50 percent, for example, although it's hard to compare that with what Barry and Hart do because McKinley draws a lot of climbers relatively new to the sport.
A climber writing for the December issue of Mountain Gazette described Hart and Barry as ''strong, focused and as efficiently precise as engineers in their climbing.''
''We aren't risk takers,'' Hart said, ''just very persistent and fit. We don't take the easy trade routes to get to the summit, like Denali's West Buttress. But neither do we take the hardest routes.''
Though he isn't quick to admit it, Hart is a list keeper.
On a spreadsheet, he has plotted the highest peaks in North America. He has recorded the ones he has climbed and projected when he might climb the others. He is equally organized about almost everything that has to do with climbing.
Equipment lists include the weight of each piece of gear. He even charts the calories of each piece of expedition food, said Hunt, who has climbed with Hart.
Hart even has a list of 100 things he wants to accomplish before he dies, which includes learning ballroom dancing.
Only 15 are climbing related.
''Engineers like lists,'' Hart said with a laugh.
Hart said the motivation for the climbs isn't the exposure to risk. ''Some like the thrill of being on the edge,'' Hart said, ''but I don't like being scared.'' Instead, Hart said, he likes the preparation, the feeling of being self-sufficient, the solitude, the challenge and the time spent with good friends.
Climbers often are in situations where they have to weigh whether they are over their heads, Hart said. ''If you are within your abilities, that's not fear, that's discomfort.''
Hart is a 33-year-old petroleum engineer whose father was an Anchorage Assembly member and city planner in the 1970s before the family moved to Colorado. Barry is a 33-year-old electrical engineer and a third-generation Alaskan. They started climbing together in 1994.
While they are alike in many respects, they are different in that Hart is willing to talk about his climbing experiences while Barry is not.
Aside from their Alaska and Canada expeditions, they have both climbed in the Himalayas and plan to travel to Pakistan this summer to climb. The two are fortunate to have flexible and understanding employers, Hart said.
''Paul has been with us for seven years, Dave five,'' said Janet Reiser, a NANA/Colt Engineering company manager. ''They work hard, and they play hard. We never know what they have up their sleeves, but we're never surprised. Pakistan this summer? I'm not surprised.''
On every climb, they've been joined by a handful of friends.
''Climbing with Paul is one of the major reasons I keep going back each year. We have an amazing partnership,'' Hart said.
''The most vivid memories of my life are with Paul over the last seven years -- racing a lenticular cloud off the summit of Mount Blackburn; struggling down Mount Bear in ... whiteout blizzard conditions; waking up to the sound of serac avalanche debris bombarding our campsite at 15,000 foot on Mount Logan at 6 a.m.''
That campsite bombing, in 1998, was ''as close to sheer terror as I have ever experienced,'' Hart said. ''It was terrible.'' The campsite looked benign the day before; there was no evidence they had selected a dangerous spot.
Other than that incident, the two have few close calls to recount. In 1999, they turned back during an ascent of Mount Strickland because of avalanche conditions. And in 1993, Hart and a couple of friends were thwarted on an attempt on Mount Sanford when a member of the climbing party was stricken with pulmonary edema.
Hart returned to the mountain in 1997 and summited. In 1999, Hart and Barry turned back on Mount Strickland, after climbing four other peaks in the area, because of avalanche conditions.
''As a team, they work quite well together,'' Hunt said. ''Hart has had phenomenal success. It's about being organized and knowing what he is up against ... then a bit of luck.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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