116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Brad Shears, 43, finally summited Denali — the highest peak in North America at 20,000 feet above sea level — on May 29 after training for four years because of the pandemic and weather delays.
“It was a huge relief,” he said. “I am kind of sad, but also it was a huge journey for myself and for my family. It’s very emotional.”
When he’s not climbing mountains, Shears works at Modern Piping in Cedar Rapids. Shears said he has climbed mountains seriously for five years, starting with a two-day journey on Mount Rainier in Washington state.
Mountain climbing season in 2020 was canceled because of COVID-19. Shears had to cancel his climb in 2020 because of the pandemic, and again in 2021 due to bad weather.
“I went last year, and I climbed the mountain until about 16,500 feet and we were unable to continue because of the weather,” he said. “As I was at base camp last year, when we had to come home, I signed up and was on the first climb of this year.”
Shears said he was bundled up in a down parka to resist the minus-5 degrees Fahrenheit temperature and 15 mph winds and 20 mph gusts when he summited. Denali, located in Alaska, also is one of the coldest mountains.
“It’s always sunny here. It doesn’t go down in the summertime,” he said.
The journey to the top of the mountain started nine months ago, when Shears prepared for the 21-day climb in his garage in Atkins for five to six days a week with a Denali virtual training regiment.
“It's specifically a lot of step-ups with a pack, dragging a tire down gravel roads, lots of running, floor exercises,” he said. “I kind of converted my garage into a little mini training facility.”
On the weekends, Shears said he put on a backpack weighing 60 to 70 pounds and walked nine miles around the Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area.
“My wife and I will walk that and in the wintertime I will wear my big boots and snowshoes, and all of the equipment I used to prepare for to see if it works and suffer in the cold,” he said.
14,000 feet up
During the climb, Shears said within a week, he and his team had hiked up to 14,000 feet. On Denali, after that height, it is straight up climbing on fixed lines.
The team had to wait 12 days at 14,000 feet for strong winds to slow to climb up. He said he ate once in the morning and once at night — meals consisted of hearty food like grits.
“It was so sunny out we had our shirts off and relaxed and enjoyed the weather. You would look up and see the wind blowing off the mountain at 35 mph,” he said. “They tried to summit and they pulled a guy off the mountain and his hands were black, it was so cold.”
Once cleared to start going to the top of the mountain, Shears said climbers have to do two runs up — one to take gear up to set up camp and sleep, and go up again.
“You kind of climb the mountain twice,” he said.
The head wall
Shears said from 14,000 to 16,500 feet, climbers go up a steep slope of ice with fixed lines on it. He said this area of the mountain is called the head wall.
“We are attached to the fixed lines as we climb with a mechanical ascender,” he said. “For roughly 1,000 feet it's straight up and down. From there it's rock and a very exposed ridge line.”
Brian Beatty, who has climbed mountains since the 1980s and is a mentor to Shears, said he knew Shears would be successful climbing Denali.
“He has a lot of drive and endurance,” he said. “I see him out running past my house sometimes and he’s just really got a passion for what he’s doing.”
Beatty, who also has climbed Denali, said the mountain is one of the most difficult to climb because it is close to the Arctic Circle, making it severely cold.
“The vertical rise of Denali is far bigger than Everest. In fact, the footprint of Everest could fit on the north face of Denali,” he said.
After the whole journey, Shears said the next big climb on his horizon is a range of mountains in Peru, but he plans to hike some 14,000 feet mountains this summer and early fall in Colorado with his wife.
“My knee is a little sore, but I feel great otherwise. It’s such a huge challenge that it's almost impossible but it isn’t,” he said. “I feel really energized … I’m ready to go climb something else.”
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