Battered, bruised Denali climbers return: ‘We’ll be back’

“The Kid” not done

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 7/14/21

FLEMING ISLAND - At one critical point in his epic attempt to scale the 20,320 foot summit to Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Alaska, 12-year old Mills Weinstein had to grow up real fast. Daunting, to say …

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Battered, bruised Denali climbers return: ‘We’ll be back’

“The Kid” not done

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND - At one critical point in his epic attempt to scale the 20,320 foot summit to Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Alaska, 12-year old Mills Weinstein had to grow up real fast. Daunting, to say the least, but exciting to say the least for a 12 year old on a summer vacation trip.

“Mills was my hero. We were right there; at 17,200 feet on Tuesday, but we were resting and, on Wednesday, the weather seemed to be giving us an opportunity and we were ready; healthy, rested, fed and energized,” said Scott Weinstein, Mills’ dad, who along with Jacksonville climber Andrew Bunn, were set to finish their 28 day journey to the summit of Denali. “At about noon, I reached for my boots and that was it; my back wrenched.”

Weinstein noted that a large group that attempted the Tuesday summit eventually got caught in weather and failed to summit.

“Wednesday was the perfect weather day,” said Scott Weinstein. “Then the freak injury completely changed our thinking.”

The injury obstacle became three-fold for the trio who had weathered; no pun intended, nearly 11 days of waiting for a break in the weather with 30-40 mile hour winds, a windchill near -30 degrees, a limited cache of food and a 12 year old kid that had zero body fat.

“Our dilemma quickly became do we take the chance and hit our window of opportunity or do we turn around and find a way to get back down with my back,” said Mills Weinstein. “I instantly became an adult and it was a daunting feeling, but I knew I now had to become the dad to take care of my dad.”

Weinstein made a point to add Bunn’s inclusion as a part of the summit attempt as critical to the success of both ends of the mission; Bunn reaching summit and the Weinsteins’ successful return to the bottom.

“He (Bunn) had four major components to making this trip successful; he was a strong, experienced climber that could carry more stuff up the mountain than Mills, he was a third opinion on safety and weather decisions which was critical to convincing me to stay at the 17,200 camp to be extracted due to weather, his expertise added to mine to make things even safer especially when I was injured,” said Scott Weinstein. “By rules of the climb, we had to have the second adult to be able to anchor me; the other adult, if a fall occurs. He was very critical and I’m glad he got to get to the summit.”

The decision ended the summit attempt for Mills and Scott, but Bunn continued and successfully hit the summit with another group before joining the duo for the return trip. The Weinsteins are still tentatively planning an attempt on summits in Montana (12,900ft), Wyoming (13,700ft) and West Virginia that would finish the 48 continguous United States with Denali a possible re-do in a year.

“We knew we would have to wait for the rescue helicopter to get to the top, Andrew had the opportunity and my dad and I were secured at the camp,” said Mills. “Now, it was a matter of readying to be taken off the mountain in a helicopter in swirling winds and altitude. We gave it our best efforts and my dad and my training got us home.”

For Scott Mills, the closeness of the summit; though still 2.5 miles away, made the decision-making excruciating, but in the end the right decision.

“There are not a lot of expert climbers that can get to the summit, let alone 17,000 feet in some of the conditions we faced,” said Scott. “I’m so proud of my 12 year old son for enduring, maturing and taking command at that moment. He did everything I was tasked to do as I layed on the ice for hours waiting for the helicopter. We’ll be back.”

One successful tangent to the climb was a medical “save” by Scott Weinstein to a climber having medical issues.

“My training as an EMT training instructor helped in that instance,” said Scott Weinstein. “It was just one of those things that happens and my training was able to help the person.”

For Mills, the attempt was quite the summer trip.

“I met a few incredible people; one guy, Alberto, from maybe Portugal, but lives in America and he gave me an American flag and he wanted me to take it to the summit,” said Mills. “He had summited before and was taking a group, but got stuck with us at 17,000. My first phone call off the helicopter was to my mom (Megan Weinstein) who did not know of what happened because we gave Andrew our communication equipment.”

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