Kodiak Coast Guardsmen Jason McGrath and Jon Houlberg as they depart Talkeetna for an attempt at scaling Mt. McKinley. Facebook photo
Two Coast Guard rescue swimmers attempting to summit North America’s tallest mountain were forced back just short of the top by weather in mid May. They did however, raise thousands of dollars for the Fallen Heroes Fund and honor the memory of a lost crew-mate.
Jason McGrath and Jon Houlberg got within 500 feet of Mount McKinley’s 20,237-foot peak on May 16th, when they turned around.
Wind had kept climbers from all over the world pinned down at the various base camps on McKinley for weeks, with the blowing snow obscuring the most traveled routes and driving windchills well below zero.
The duo updated family, friends and supporters on Facebook with a satellite communicator called the “inReach.” Their last message before heading home was, “Did not summit. 500 feet from the top. Heading down. More to follow!”
Dubbed their “Climb to Remember,” McGrath and Houlberg raised $7,401 for the “Fallen Heroes Fund” through the Coast Guard Foundation. We have a link to that charity below.
McGrath and Houlberg also released into the wind the ashes of Dave Skimmin, a fellow rescue swimmer once based in Kodiak, but who was killed in a training accident in Hawaii.
Also on the mountain the same time as McGrath and Houlberg was an Argentinian climber attempting a solo ascent of McKinley. Javier Callupan, age 39, was last seen leaving the 14,200-foot camp on May 6. Unfortunately, McGrath and Houlberg found his body along the trail as they were ascending to the 17,000-foot camp. McGrath and Houlberg notified park rangers of their discovery, but the body could not be immediately retrieved due to the conditions.