Living With Attitude

REI Outdoor Review Fall 1985


REI comes to the mountain: Product testing on Mt. McKinley – What works?

By Bill Sumner
Product Development Engineer

In May 1985 Mart Kerns and I, from REI, and Sarah Doherty spent 25 days on Mt. McKinley. Our primary objective was to test prototype equipment for REI and Mountain Safety Research (MSR) under rigorous conditions. A related goal was to climb the mountain.

At 20,320 feet, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley is the highest point of North America. Because the McKinley massif is located near the Arctic Circle, it is exposed to the coldest stormiest high-mountain weather found anywhere on earth.

The conditions we encountered were extreme. We had temperatures of minus 40 degrees and lower (without calculating wind chill) and winds of 100 mph and above. The combination of altitude and weather makes McKinley an ideal laboratory for field testing mountain equipment.

The equipment test results were everything we had hoped for, confirming the validity of some new designs, suggesting modifications to others, and proving a few to be total dogs.

McKinley tests people as well as equipment. Here too we fared rather well. Not only did we end the trip better friends than we began, but Sarah captured everyone’s imagination by becoming the first amputee to climb McKinley on crutches. Her ascent, done in classic style carrying her own load and pulling her own sled, was mote than the simple athletic success of a one-legged person. It was a triumph for the dreaming spirit.