KFD climber nears top of Mount McKinley

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

Hoping to summit Mount McKinley, a six-member climbing team that includes Kenai firefighter John Harris was weathered in Wednesday 14,200 feet up on the continent's highest peak.

"The team's in good shape," said Joy Bunde, executive director for KIMO-TV Channel 13. The station's news director, Ty Hardt, is a climber on the team.

"Everybody's fine and healthy," Bunde said.

Twenty-five other expeditions also are waiting for the weather to clear, which will mean heavy traffic once weather conditions permit.

Next stop is 17,200 feet, before the team continues to the 20,320 foot summit.

"Most climbers don't like to camp at 17,200 because of possible storms," said Bunde, who added that the team will try to limit its stay at that elevation to one or two nights.

After reaching the summit, it's a three-day descent back to the 10,000-foot base camp, before the climbers return home.

"We're all pretty excited," said Scott Walden, Kenai's assistant fire chief.

The department is monitoring the climbing team's progress through a daily log published on the Web and by watching KIMO newscasts. As of Wednesday's 5:30 newscast, television updates will be live from the mountain.

Harris, the son of Nikiski Fire Chief Billy Harris, is climbing in memory of fallen firefighters. His focus has caught the attention of firefighters across the United States and raised $7,000 from fire organizations in Alaska for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emittsburg, Md.

Harris has been invited to the national memorial in October, where he will speak about teamwork to the children of fallen firefighters and be a guest at a foundation banquet. Other organizations are spreading the news of the climb, according to Walden.

"I just got a call from the owner of Fire TV, a documentary producing and training studio," Walden said. "They have a section of their Web site dedicated to this climb.

"The site gets about 147,000 hits a day," Walden said. "That's a lot of exposure."

Included on Fire TV's site is the climbing team's diary, an article on Harris entitled "One Firefighter's Tribute" and an e-mail address so people can e-mail their comments to the mountain climbers via Fire TV.

Web sites for monitoring the team's progress can be found at aksupersite.com, firefighter.com and firehero.org.

"Altitude is taking the wind out of us -- appetite is dwindling, sleep is restless," read Sunday's journal entry for Day 12 of the climb. "Seeing the summit during sunny breaks inspires us to keep on."

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