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From the sky to the ocean

Tucker native experiences Summit 2 Sea program

December 11, 2010
By DEBRA WOLF For The Inter-Mountain

World-class kayaker and climber Jesse Shimrock completed another adventure: climbing Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, and paddling the flow of whitewater through three rivers into the Cook Inlet as part of his recent Summit 2 Sea expedition.

Shimrock had been planning the trip for some time and was looking for ways to finance this dream expedition. Shimrock was relieved, when he received a telephone call from a representative for Eddie Bauer's First Ascent program.

After some discussion, the First Ascent representative agreed to sponsor and finance Shimrock's expedition.

Article Photos

ADVENTURER — It took 31 days for Jesse Shimrock to climb to the summit of Mount McKinley, top, then canoe down three rivers to the Pacific Ocean, right. (Photos courtesy Jesse Shimrock)

The program provided $20,000 to cover expenses.

From the point of the telephone conversation, Shimrock had just a short amount of time, exactly one week, to put together his adventure. He began acquiring the necessary gear and equipment from Eddie Bauer and Whittaker Mountaineering.

"I obtained most of my technical gear from Whittaker Mountaineering, which is a partner to Eddie Bauer," Shimrock said. "Rather than totally blowing all the money on gear and equipment, I reserved some in case of medical emergencies, in case something went wrong, while I was out."

Due to the advanced time frame with which Shimrock had to expedite his plan, he had to forgo climbing with his preferred climbing partners, because they were already out on climbs. Shimrock gathered a team of climbers from Rainier Mountaineer Inc. He assembled a team of 10 for the climb.

On May 7, Shimrock flew from his residence near Lake Tahoe, California, to Anchorage, Alaska. From Anchorage, he traveled to Talkeetna, Alaska. In Talkeetna, climbers utilize the air traffic hub located there to travel to and from their destinations.

"There are a lot of climbers coming and going in Talkeetna. I saw a lot of my buddies there," Shimrock said. "The night before I set out, I ate at a brew pub. I had halibut and sweet potato fries. Right beside of the brew pub is a cafe called the Road House Cafe. At the cafe, they really load up plates, and climbers prefer to eat there when they are coming back from a climb."

Shimrock and his team carried their own gear, during the climb. No sherpas were involved.

"I had a 110-pound pack. Half of that was food," Shimrock said.

While beginning his Mount McKinley ascent, Shimrock endured severe temperatures and weather. He and his team faced temperatures on average of minus 50 degrees or colder, he said.

"There were some days of just whiteouts. There were a couple of days we had to just sit it out, but I was thankful overall for the weather window we had, because we were able to mostly stay on course," Shimrock said.

The men spent 18 days climbing.

On Shimrock's summit day, the weather was extreme.

"We spent 14 hours climbing. When we reached the summit, we were only able to be there for about five minutes. We had a major whiteout, at the top. I had my grandmother's ashes with me. I take them with me everywhere I go," Shimrock said.

Shimrock had originally planned to descend from Mount McKinley toward the rivers he had chosen to paddle, but the weather and the terrain conditions did not allow him to do so. After his descent, he relied on air transportation again to carry him to his starting point near the Tokisitna River.

"We laid up for a day to resupply food and switch gear," Shimrock said. "I had a shotgun and shells for the grizzlies."

Shimrock did not use a hard boat for his paddling expedition. He had selected two inflatable, two-seater kayaks.

His paddling crew consisted of four men: himself, his father, Tom Shimrock, a longtime paddling buddy, L.J. Growth and Russell Bounds, a friend of his father's.

Shimrock's paddling goal was to traverse three rivers, the Tokisitna River, the Chulitna River and the Susitna River, which flow toward the seawaters of the Cook Inlet.

"I told one guy in Alaska what I was about to do, and he said it couldn't be done. I've spent over half of my life navigating whitewater. I felt like I could tackle the Cook Inlet," Shimrock said. "The challenge with the Cook is the tide changes very quickly. When we reached the Cook Inlet, we spent 14 hours just paddling continuously."

The entire sea journey lasted 12 days. The total Summit 2 Sea expedition lasted 31 days.

No grizzlies were encountered and no medical emergencies occurred.

Back in Talkeetna, Shimrock loaded up at the Road House Cafe.

"I had the mixed-berry pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were so big. I had two of them. I like to eat," Shimrock said.

For the future, Shimrock intends to continue combining both his passions for climbing and paddling. He spent a semester as a whitewater coach for the World Class Kayak Academy based in Missoula, Montana.

As part of his experience for World Class, Shimrock traveled and paddled rivers, all over the world, over a five-month period. From his days with World Class, Shimrock ascertained that his preference is to pursue both of his passion sports: paddling and climbing.

"I like paddling, but I don't like going for five months, without being able to climb," Shimrock said.

Shimrock has his next adventure mapped out in the Patagonia and Southern Chile regions.

"I would also like to be able to build my own gear. I don't want to make gear and sell it commercially. I just want to be able to make it for my own personal use," Shimrock said.

Although Shimrock has been exposed to rivers and mountain peaks in various locations, the West Virginia University alumni's favorite place to play is in the whitewaters of Tucker County.

"My favorite spot to paddle is the North Fork of the Blackwater Canyon. It's challenging. It's home," Shimrock said.



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