BY VAZGEN MAZANIANS
Before last month, only few Armenian climbers had ever stood on the highest peak in North America. Now, three Armenians have written themselves into the record books, becoming the first all-Armenian American team to summit Mount Denali.
Nestled at the heart of Denali National Park, this lofty peak is a geological testament to the broad notion set forth by the historian and novelist Wallace Stegner. “National Parks are the best idea we ever had,” he wrote. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” It might be said then that to climb Denali, to endure its bitterly cold temperatures and dizzying heights, is to seek out the very best that America has to offer.
A typical ascent to the summit following the standard and most popular route along the West Buttress has a 55 percent success rate among climbers and can take anywhere from 18 to 23 days to negotiate the 13,000-foot change in elevation. Common hazards in attempting to reach the top include extreme cold (even in summer), altitude illness, crevasses, avalanches, ice and rock fall, and extreme weather.
The all-Armenian American Mountaineering team consisted of five members (four men and one woman). Arlen Keshishian as Team Leader, Lernik Tahmasian, Zare Agazaryan, Hakoop Abnoos, and Roubik Mardirosian. All five members have years of mountaineering experience and collectively have summited some of the notable world peaks including Mt. Aconcagua, Mt Elbrus, Mt. Orizaba, Mt. Rainier, Lenin Peak, Mont Blanc, and Ecuador peaks such as Chimborazo. The team locally practiced in Southern California for over a year getting ready to climb Mount Denali. They have also been members of local Armenian non-profit organizations in Los Angeles area promoting hiking and mountaineering for many years.
After many days of going through all the camps fighting extreme cold and very heavy packs, on May 30, three of the team members including Arlen Keshishian, Roubik Mardirosian, and Lernik Tahmasian were able to reach the summit of this magnificent mountain. Subsequently all five members of the climb safely returned to Base Camp and now have reached their residences in Los Angeles, California where they plan to celebrate the historic climb with team supporters and local Armenian community.
“There’s so few Armenian Mountaineers attempting challenging peaks that it’s our responsibility to bring awareness to our younger generation and our community for healthy life style,” said Arlen Keshishian. The team plans to discuss the benefits of hiking and mountaineering in their local communities in the coming months.