A powerful passion for peaks

Adia Waldburger of the Record staff

To say that Dan McCann lives a life with few limits is an understatement. Aa an avid ski mountaineer, he has conquered peaks in the U.S., the French Alps and most recently climbed and skied Cho Oyu in the Himalayas.

"My passion is ski mountaineering," McCann said. "I’m trying to be a master on the world-class level."

Such a goal does not seem outreach this Parkite, who works as a carpenter when he is not climbing and skiing the world’s most challenging peaks. McCann started skiing in his native state of Ohio with his father who was a ski patrolman, and later moved to Utah to continue his passion as an adult. He skied at local resorts, but wanted something more. He began skiing in Utah’s Wasatch back, but he still wasn’t satisfied and desired steeper lines. It was then that he discovered the thrill and satisfaction of ski mountaineering, which combines climbing up a steep mountains and then skiing back down.

"What I came to find out is I enjoy the entire experience in the mountains and ski mountaineering satisfies that craving," McCann said. "I can pick a line that is technically challenging to climb and ski something that is equally as challenging on the way down. Few sports offer that much satisfaction on both ends."

McCann is actually also an avid rock climber, so the choice to pursue ski mountaineering only seemed natural.

The sport gave McCann the physical challenge he desired, but he says it also offered him with a spiritual dimension.

"I don’t think you can help but be affected by the beauty of the mountains," McCann said.

McCann also found freedom in the sport. He is not limited by resort runs or other designated areas. He is able to go where he wants when he wants. He uses few tools and only rope to repel. Every mountain is a separate challenge for him to study, prepare for and explore.

On American soil, McCann has mountaineered the Tetons, Mt. Ranier, Mt. Hood as well as extensively exploring the Wasatch Back. McCann began aching for more challenges after surpassing all of his goals in the Tetons, including climbing the six highest peaks in the mountain range. "I honestly didn’t think I was capable of it, but that was part of the learning process," McCann said. "I’m capable of a lot more than I think am mentally." After that realization, McCann headed to Chamonix, France, the mecca of skiing and climbing, for a month of mountaineering. At first, McCann was overwhelmed by the French Alps and had difficulty acclimating, but soon set his sights on a goal. The French Alps boast 50 to 60-degree faces on mountains that are thousands of feet long, and McCann wanted to conquer them. He skied many faces sight unseen, with little or no prior knowledge, avoided avalanches and finished successfully. "You learn to attune to that inner voice," McCann said. With France behind him, McCann began looking for a new challenge. He found it in one of the mothers of mountain peaks, Cho Oyu in the Himalayas. At 26,800 feet tall and 8,200 meters long, Cho Oyu is the sixth highest peak in the world. His friend and Salt Lake photographer, Mike Asheim, had been planning a trip to the area with another friend from Truckee, California and invited McCann to come along. So, McCann began to search for funding. He sent out resumes of his accomplishments and samples of the mountain photography the trip could provide and soon got a response. Jack Walzer of Jan’s Mountain Outfitters and White Pine Touring came on board, as well as Adam Childers of Salt Lake Motorsports and Rick Blair from Weider nutritional supplements. "I couldn’t have done the trip without these guys," McCann said. Once in the Himalayas, McCann was up against a whole different set of challenges. At such a high altitude, it took weeks to acclimate and energy was at a premium. Base camp was set up at 19,000 feet, making even simple tasks like sleeping and preparing and eating food difficult. McCann lost 20 pounds and spent much of his days reading and writing and reflecting on his experience. On September 28, as McCann’s trip was coming to a close, he was finally able to near the summit of Cho Oyu. Just five hours and 400 feet away, McCann had to stop, because his photographers were ready to leave. McCann also realized that the continued exposure would very likely lead to frostbite on his right foot, so the group turned around. "I went there with nothing to prove. I was not willing to take any chances," McCann said. After that, the pack yaks arrived a few days early and McCann and his crew packed up to head home, leaving Cho Oyu’s summit behind. "Honestly, I expected more from myself, but the mental strain and suffering associated with elevation was more than I expected." McCann said. When McCann was nearing the summit, he had not eaten or slept in two days and was working from pure adrenaline. Even though McCann was unable to finish the trip the way he desired, he had still achieved plenty, both mentally and physically. "I think I’m lucky, because my passion involves facing my own fear," McCann said. "There’s something incredibly empowering about the commitment necessary to pursue my passion at this level." McCann is back in Park City this winter, but is already getting the itch to return to Cho Oyu and try once again for the summit. He needs to regroup and find more funding, but it’s a goal that he will pursue until he finally reaches it. In fact, his passion for the sport and the spritual centering it provides seems to consume him. "I have so much love for my sport," McCann said. "I feel I have no choice in the matter." As part of McCann’s agreement with Walzer, he plans to show photos and slides from his trip sometime in the near future. To learn more about McCann’s adventures, view photos or help sponsor a return to Cho Oyu, contact McCann at danmcskior call 645-9647.


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