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Polar explorer lectures on experiences for Earth month

BY RYAN COLE | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Lonnie Dupre has ventured into some less-than-hospitable locales. The vast Siberian expanse, the Arctic tundra, and the pristine mountains of Greenland all know his footfall. Polar bears, temperatures below minus-50 Fahrenheit, and 80-mph winds have threatened his life.

And now, the man who three months ago attempted a solo ascent of Alaska’s Mount McKinley (Denali) — at 20,320 feet, the tallest peak in North America — will conquer the University of Iowa’s rock wall.

The adventurer will intermittently field questions while scaling the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center climbing wall at 6 p.m. today. Dupre will subsequently deliver a lecture at 8 p.m. in 1505 Seamans Center, addressing environmental issues and their global and local implications. Admission is free.

In exploring and lecturing, the Minnesota native said he’s having a great time.

“It’s a blast; it really is,” said Dupre, who sports a grizzled beard and heavy accent. “Bringing that information back to the community and showing them what you’ve seen is always rewarding and fun.”

He will discuss seeing the effect of melting polar ice caps and detail why ice retention in the Arctic is essential not only for the region but for the entire planet. The explorer will also offer solutions and localize the issue by explaining the effect in Iowa and by suggesting ways for area residents to become involved in positive environmental change.

Dupre’s visit is part of “Earth Month” — a term coined by Office of Sustainability Director Liz Christiansen and Associate Editor Amy Myers — and is centered on Earth Day, April 22. Myers said she hopes students capitalize on Dupre’s visit and a number of other events to get involved in environmental awareness.

“There’s a lot of opportunity,” she said. “People can pick what they want, what they’re comfortable with.”

Other Sustainability Office events include a free concert by singer/songwriter Mason Jennings on April 28 and a screening of the film Carbon Nation in the IMU on Friday. Environmental organization ECO Hawk will sponsor a local-food restaurant tour on April 28.

Christiansen said she believes Dupre’s firsthand experiences and unparalleled tales of adventure — including a 250-mile hike of Canada’s Bank Island and a 1,000-mile dog-sled trip across Russia — can potentially galvanize interest in environmental issues.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn in a different way about climate change,” she said. “It’s not very often that students get the opportunity to meet an actual explorer.”

In addition to drawing on his journeys to the North Pole — a repeated destination reached variously by kayak, canoe, and dog sled — Dupre will also refer to information gathered from Canada’s indigenous Inuit people during his excursions across the Great White North.

Wayne Fett, senior associate director of Recreational Services, said Dupre’s years of experience, beginning just after he graduated from high school, allows the Arctic trailblazer to speak with legitimacy.

“Not all people can actually say they have directly witnessed the effects of climate change,” Fett said. “Lonnie has during his travels over the years.”

Though educating on climate change will constitute the bulk of Dupre’s discussion, Christiansen said, the explorer’s stories could provide riveting tales of interest for “armchair travelers” as well.

One experience occurred in January, when Dupre reached 17,200 feet on Mount McKinley and was forced by severe weather to seek shelter in a cave. Indefinitely immobilized, alone, and with no hope for rescue, he relied on his preparation and mental fortitude acquired over the years to endure.

“I tried to pass the time by repairing clothing, going over equipment and the game plan,” he said. “You don’t want to get up to 17,000 feet and then freak out.”

He spent a week confined in the space, listening to his radio and sleeping as much as possible, before the weather relented, allowing him to return to the base of the mountain.

“I just take each day as it comes and don’t look too far ahead,” he said. “If you’ve got this big thing in front of you and you just focus on the finish, you’ll never get there.”

And though he didn’t reach the peak of Mount McKinley — no solo climber has in the middle of winter — Dupre reached 17,200 feet in a record-setting 13 hours. He plans another attempt next January.

UI Environmental Coalition member Kelli Parsons said such feats are often great ways to garner attention for an issue and can motivate others to achieve greatness.

“Seeing him do something he really cares about inspires [people],” she said.

Dupre, who grew up on a small farm and often explored the countryside with his brother, proposed a direct correlation between outdoor activity and concern for the Earth, and said he hopes his lecture will encourage people to spend more time immersed in nature.

“The more time you spend in the environment, the more you start to appreciate it and want to protect it,” he said.

And though outdoor activities may not lead to a winter excursion across Canada’s Northwest Passage, a circumnavigation of Greenland, or a dog-sled trip to the Arctic, Dupre said spending some time in the wilderness satisfies a basic human desire.

“We have a little bit of adventure in all of us,” he said.


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