Pomeroy summits McKinley

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

Fred Pomeroy said he will leave Mount Everest to the big boys, but after climbing Mount McKinley, many would say he is one of the big boys now.

Former Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Pomeroy reached the summit of McKinley earlier this week. It was No. 19 in an ever-growing list of peaks he has successfully climbed.

When he is finished, Pomeroy will have climbed the highest peaks in all of the 50 United States.

"It's a nice way to see the country," he said.

The mountaineer began his series of treks three or four years ago with a backpacking trip on Mount Wheeler in New Mexico with his son Mike. The pair decided to climb the highest peak in every state, and now that Pomeroy has worked his way through the western portion of the country, he has plans to try his talents on the East Coast.

He hopes to reach his goal within the year, but by the time he reaches the Midwest, he may just drive over the high points, he said.

Pomeroy, 61, spent more than a year preparing for his climb to the summit of McKinley. He ran bleachers and spent a lot of time snow camping in the mountains of New Mexico.

"I have always spent a lot of time in the outdoors, but I didn't have a lot of technical climbing experience or training," he said.

While he may not have had training, Pomeroy had a lot of real climbing experience under his belt before tackling all 20,320 feet of McKinley's glacial slopes and inclement weather.

He has climbed Mount Gannett in Wyoming, which he credits as being second only to McKinley in difficulty. Although Gannett is only 12,800 feet, it is 25 miles to the peak, whereas McKinley is 18 miles.

Of the 19 mountains he has climbed, Pomeroy said he prefers Mount Humphreys in Arizona.

"It was a day trip. I made it up and down in 12 hours," he said. "It was very dry and arid and very scenic near the Grand Canyon."

Pomeroy generally climbs solo, although he occasionally convinces a friend to join him. He and son Mike frequently climbed together, but Mike died in a car accident a year ago, and now Pomeroy said the remainder of his hikes are in his memory.

Although climbing McKinley was an amazing experience, Pomeroy said, his favorite part of the trip was the camaraderie between the final four members of the group that reached the peak of the mountain. Nine people started at the beginning of the trip, but only four, plus the two guides, were successful.

Pomeroy said the group was only able to spend 10 minutes at the summit.

"By the time you get there, the air is so thin, it is kind of more a relief than static exhilaration," Pomeroy said. "You get there, shoot a few photos and congratulate everyone."

Despite the strenuous climb, Pomeroy did have an opportunity to take in the scenery.

"It is so awesome, it is almost undescribable, the grandeur of the range."

The entire trip took less than three weeks. From the peak it took Pomeroy and the others two days to return to base camp. Wednesday, he arrived back in Soldotna, where his wife, Sandra, stayed during his trip.

Pomeroy said his wife goes with him from state to state, but it is her goal to shop, not climb, in all 50.

He is leaving the Kenai Peninsula on Saturday and returning to his home in New Mexico. Pomeroy moved to New Mexico in 1989 after he retired as superintendent of the school district, a position he held for 10 years.

In a few weeks, Pomeroy plans to retire from his job as director of the New Mexico school administrators.

He and his wife will vacation in Florida, where, of course, he plans to climb the highest peak. From there, they will travel through the eastern coastal states.

As far as giving McKinley a second try, Pomeroy said once is enough.

"That'll do it. It was pretty challenging, to say the least."

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