Denali bound: Firefighters on ultimate uphill challenge

06/27/2014 9:25 AM

06/27/2014 4:14 PM

After months of intensive training, several Fort Worth firefighters have flown to Alaska to begin their quest to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak.

“The only thing that could stop us is the weather,” firefighter Kasey Gandy said. “If the weather doesn’t give us an opportunity, there’s really nothing you can do about that. But as far as being trained physically and mentally and being prepared with equipment, everybody’s more than ready.”

In February, a Star-Telegram report described the plans and preparation by five firefighters — Gandy, Clint Brewer, Matt Magoffin, Jerry Bays and Daniel Ory — to scale Denali. Since then, another firefighter, Lt. Dusty Sides, has joined the climb.

The mountain, also known as Mount McKinley, has an elevation of 20,237 feet.

The firefighters could often be spotted traipsing through downtown or over the Seventh Street bridge, heavy packs strapped to their backs, dragging weights on makeshift sleds behind them, or slogging up and down the stairs of Farrington Field.

“We are as prepared as we can be physically,” said Brewer, who acknowledges being a little nervous about the uphill challenge. “I just want us to get good weather and want us to be fortunate healthwise.”

After a few days of team training, they will fly to the mountain’s base camp, on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, on Friday to begin their challenge. They will have a maximum of 22 days on the mountain.

Along with their gear, they will carry a Sons of the Flag banner so they can pose with it in photographs at the summit. The firefighters teamed up with the nonprofit group to raise money for a cause close to their hearts and profession — military, first responder and civilian burn survivors.

So far, they have raised $6,790 of their $10,000 goal.

“A hundred percent of every dollar we make for them is going toward burn survivors in North Texas,” Gandy said. “No one is getting their salaries paid out of it. There’s no administrative fees, none of that nonsense.”

Brewer said the firefighters will carry a satellite phone, GoPro cameras and a solar panel charger, supplied by Star-Telegram media partner WFAA-TV, to help document their climb and provide updates.

Their guide service, Mountain Trip, posts updates on climbing teams.

Gandy said he is purposefully avoiding looking at weather reports for Denali, which can “change on a dime.”

“They had a really bad first half of the season with weather. Most of the teams didn’t get to summit. Most of the teams didn’t even make it to the high camp,” Gandy said. “I’m hoping they got all their inclement weather out of the way — at least the weather’s that going to bar us from the summit.”

A more pressing concern for Gandy on Tuesday was that all the firefighters’ checked gear makes it to Alaska, too.

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