Breathitt man continues effort to climb Denali

jwarren@herald-leader.comJune 17, 2009 

A Breathitt County mountain climber is somewhere above 11,000 feet on Alaska's Denali, where two climbers fell to their deaths Thursday.

Martin Douthitt, 63, of Jackson left the base of Denali with a party of seven other climbers and guides June 9 for a planned 22-day climb to the 20,320-foot summit of North America's highest peak.

According to a dispatch posted on a mountaineering Web site Monday night, Douthitt's group apparently was safe and spent Monday carrying food and fuel up to 13,500 feet. They then returned to Denali's Camp 2, at around 11,200 feet, where they were to spend Tuesday resting.

Tragedy struck another group of climbers Thursday afternoon a few thousand feet above Douthitt's group.

According to an Associated Press report, two experienced climbers, both physicians, fell about 2,000 feet while ascending Denali's West Rib route.

Lexington's Dale Torok, a close friend of Douthitt, said he initially was horrified when he saw an online report about the accident, initially fearing that Douthitt was involved.

"I clicked on the story, afraid what I might read," Torok said. He was relieved not to see Douthitt's name.

It's Douthitt's second attempt to climb Denali. His previous effort, in July 2007, ended when he became ill and had to be airlifted off the mountain to a hospital in Anchorage. He's hoping for better luck this time.

If Douthitt reaches the top, he will have climbed six of the so-called Seven Summits, the highest mountains on earth's seven continents. That would leave only Mount Everest, the highest of them all.

It's already been an adventurous year for Douthitt.

In February, he and Torok climbed Australia's Mount Kosciusko — named for Polish soldier and American Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciusko — delighting the Polish-Australian community and becoming the subject of a documentary film.

Douthitt and Torok arrived in Australia just as a public debate was heating up there over whether to rename Mount Kosciusko. Polish-Australians, seeing Douthitt's climb as a public relations bonanza for their campaign to block any name change, rolled out the red carpet for Douthitt and Torok, and commissioned a documentary film crew to accompany them and record their climb.

Torok said he recently got a copy of the finished documentary.

Douthitt, who runs a landscaping, hardware and electronics business in Jackson with his brother, became interested in mountaineering in 1999. He set off on his quest to climb all Seven Summits soon afterward, though he's always denied that he was reckless.

"I'm not a risk taker," he once said. "I don't particularly like heights."

Torok said it isn't clear whether Douthitt will tackle Everest if he reaches the top of Denali.

"He said it will depend on how he feels afterward," Torok said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255

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