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A third chance at Denali

Tim Bayerl of Alexandria finally realized his dream of climbing to the highest elevation in every state in the U.S. by reaching the summit of Denali in Alaska. (Contributed photo)1 / 2
"You always have to be a little bit nervous because you need to make sure you don't do anything stupid. Doing something stupid up there has big consequences." -- Tim Bayerl, mountain climber (Contributed photo)2 / 2

All Tim Bayerl of Alexandria wanted to do was see America. It took him three tries, but he finally made his point - for the 50th time. And this time it was the big one.

On June 22, perched 20,320 feet above sea level, Bayerl planted his feet on the summit of Denali, the highest point in Alaska, not to mention in North America. With this lofty step, he gained membership into an elite club - the 50 Highpointers.

Members of the Highpointers Club are those who have climbed to the highest elevation in every state in the U.S. There are two levels of achievement in the club - those who have reached the high point in the 48 continental states, and those who have also scaled their way to the summits in Alaska and Hawaii.

The Echo Press told the first chapter of Bayerl's story in the July 16, 2010 edition. At that time, he had successfully attained membership in the 48 Highpointers. He had also climbed to Hawaii's highest peak.

This trek across America to the high point of each state started in May 2001 when he and his wife, Marilyn, climbed Eagle Mountain in Minnesota. By 2009, although he had reached all 48 continental states and Hawaii, Denali had eluded him - twice.

In 2007 he made it to 16,200 feet on the treacherous slope. But the wind picked up, storms blew in, and the climber had to concede to the elements.

In June 2010 he tried again. This time Mother Nature unleashed her fury at 16,800 feet, and once again Bayerl was forced to turn around and head back down the mountain.

Last winter, a friend he had made on his second attempt climbing Denali convinced Bayerl to give it one more shot.

Bayerl started the rigorous training regimen right away, hiking with 70-pound packs, running and lifting weights.

"The biggest thing for Denali is that you have to be in tremendously good shape," he said. "I worked really hard to get in shape for it. That is an accomplishment by itself."

Using a guide service to ensure safety, Bayerl and his group of six began the daunting journey on June 11. A delay at base camp because of the weather had the climber concerned that the third time may not be a charm. Fortunately, this time Mother Nature took pity on the tenacious highpointer and conditions improved.

"Unlike the first two times, the weather cooperated," he said. "Up higher the weather was good and we were able to move right up and summit and come back down."

As the group ascended, Bayerl watched the mountain next to Denali loom above them at the beginning, only to look down at it in amazement at the summit.

All the while he and his guides kept vigilant eyes on their safety equipment.

"Everything we have is tied together," Bayerl explained. "We were roped up in a team, mostly because of concern about falling in a crevasse - they are everywhere."

Bayerl told of the perils involved because of untied equipment. Just a couple days before his ascent, a climber's sled started sliding down the mountain. He went after it and plummeted 2,000 feet to his death.

"You always have to be a little bit nervous because you need to make sure you don't do anything stupid. Like chase your sled," he said. "Doing something dumb up there has big consequences."

But concern for his safety didn't hamper Bayerl's awe at the breathtaking scenery.

"It is just beautiful up there," he marveled. "The clouds are continuously moving in and out. You can look around and 10 minutes later it is totally different. The views are incredible because you are so much higher than everything else."

On day 11, the group arrived at their elusive destination. But on a frigid mountaintop, the celebration is quick. He could only spend about a half-hour reveling in the victory.

"Mountaineering is one of the few sports that when you reach your goal, you are only half done," Bayerl said. "The excitement is a little tempered by the fact that you still have to get down."

After a three-day descent, Bayerl now could cross "Become a 50 Highpointer" off his list of life goals. He is one of about 250 people who are in the club.

"It was a sense of accomplishment for sure," he said. "But it was also kind of like, 'Man, I'm finally done!' That was the biggest emotion."

And with his step onto the highest point in America, he realized that his days of conquering the side of a mountain are probably over. His plans for the future include only hiking and trail work.

"I've been trying to get it [Denali] done for three years and I'm glad it's done," he concluded. "I don't have any other really big mountains I want to climb anymore. It was more of a way to see America than a goal of climbing mountains."