Adventure educators finish Denali expedition

Clearwater Middle School teachers Christian Gilbert and Brian Honkomp may not have reached the summit of “The Great One” but their most recent climb was still quite the feat.
Gilbert, along with Honkomp and others, have brought adventure into the classroom, sharing their climbs of some of the most majestic mountains in the world with their students and an online following through Go4theSummit Education Expeditions. Recently, Gilbert and Honkomp, along with Waconia high school alumni Josh Pauly, Matt Wessale and Patrick Deering and Orono alumnus Louis Patten, scaled Mt. Denali, aka Mt. McKinley and “The Great One,” in Alaska from June 15 to July 7.
At 20,320 feet, it is the tallest mountain in North America. Before climbing the mountain, Gilbert expressed that it would be the team’s biggest challenge to date. Climbing this mountain would add to their list, which includes such peaks as Aconcagua, Argentina; Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; Elbrus, Russia; Kosciuszko, Australia; and Pico de Orizaba, Mexico.
In the end, the team ran into a rare electrical storm and had to stop just 200 feet short of the summit.
“If I had a dollar for every time a family member, friend, or person on the street has told us in the last week after hearing our story ‘well, you should pretty much count it as a summit … good job,’ we would have our next expedition paid for!” said Gilbert, who wrestled with whether or not the team achieved a successful summit.
“Do I count our efforts on Denali as a successful summit bid like so many people have told us to do and because we were faced with conditions outside our control? Or do I consider our team’s effort on the mountain as a great adventure in one of earth’s toughest places and be OK with the fact I have not stood on the actual highest point of North America?” Gilbert mused.
Gilbert provided an answer to the question in a final email that was sent to students:
“I know that our team climbed Denali, worked the mountain perfectly to put us in the right spot at the right time (but) our team is NOT going to consider this as a summit for the Go4theSummit team, and we already have ‘plans’ to take a few years off and return to finish the final 200 feet of the Great One.”
The team gained something of a celebrity status among other climbers, Alaskan shopkeepers, air taxi pilots and Denali climbing rangers for surviving “the June 27 storm.” Gilbert explained that electrical storms are unheard of above 14,000 feet.
In a final post to students, the Denali team expressed thankfulness to sponsors Waconia Fire & Rescue, West Carver and Waconia Rotaries and Petzl, as well as Waconia Public Schools and the Clearwater eighth graders for being their “inspiration to seek new adventures throughout the world.”
“Climbing Denali has been the adventure of a lifetime and we have enjoyed sharing our adventure with you,” Gilbert concluded.
To see photos and learn more about the 2013 Denali Education Expedition, visit
• Gilbert, Honkomp and other Clearwater teachers used the expedition as a springboard to educate students and others about the importance of setting goals. To help achieve this, GOAL4theSummit was created. It is a community initiative designed to help students set and achieve goals to make better lives.
To learn more about the initiative, visit