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Climbing Champions

Two young men stand smiling in front of a grey building on a sunny, summer day

Nome brothers Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn were the first mountaineers to successfully summit Mount Denali this year. Summiting the 20,310-foot mountain is an immense challenge for any hiker. Being the first of the season is an even greater accomplishment. Every year, about 1,000 people attempt to get to the peak that protrudes from a national park about the size of Massachusetts. Half of them fail.

The Hoogendorn brothers explained in an interview on KNOM that the trip was the fulfillment of a personal pledge after graduating from high school: to hike up and ski down the tallest peak in North America. After an unsuccessful attempt with a six-person crew in 2018 — which was cut short due to illness — the Hoogendorns tried again this spring, and made it.

The challenges were both physical and mental: from breathing properly in thin air to keeping focused on accomplishing necessary tasks. Their ascent was interrupted for four days at 9,000 feet. A storm with high winds and whiteout conditions prevented them from pushing forward. They were forced to stay put, frequently shoveling around their tent to keep it from being buried in the snow. Even that delay, however, had its advantages: from that elevation, they were able to pick up radio signals from Anchorage and Fairbanks. “We could almost pick up KNOM,” they say, laughing. “We tried really hard.”

The brothers wanted to finish their Denali adventure for everyone supporting them back home. They say they were thinking especially of their mother, who was celebrating a birthday when her sons were stuck in a tent at 9,000 feet. Thinking of her kept Oliver and Wilson determined to “finish what we started.”

When they finally reached the summit, the young Hoogendorn men recall that they didn’t say much, mostly overcome with a sense of gratitude for being able to look at Alaska from a height of nearly four miles.

What might their next adventure be? Mount Everest, perhaps, or biking the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail, they tell KNOM listeners. But first, the Hoogendorns say they’re bound for Sweden in 2020, for a long-distance Scandinavian biking trip: “something that’s not snowy and isolated,” they say with a laugh. “We need a break.”

The brothers are preparing to return to Western Alaska after college. Oliver is studying environmental biology; Wilson is studying aviation.

Image at top: Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn outside Nome’s Katirvik Cultural Center, spring 2019. Photo courtesy of Danielle Slingsby, Kawerak.