How did you celebrate your college graduation? It probably wasn’t atop the highest mountain on the North American continent.

Alex Calder ’15, recent graduate of the Resource Economics Department, and his UMass roommate Jeff Rogers ’15, a graduate of the Department of Operations and Information Management, summited Alaska’s Mount McKinley, located in the Denali National Park and Preserve this past May. Only 50% of climbers who attempt the climb ever make it to Denali’s summit.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” says Calder. “A large part of that comes from learning to ski at a young age and being involved in Boy Scouts. I became interested in climbing while at UMass—I spent a log of weekends in the White Mountains of NH.”

The dream of climbing Denali began two years ago, when Calder and Rogers started training; they completed New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse in the dead of winter, ran stadium stairs with 40-pound backpacks, slept in incremental weather, and researched everything they could about the mountain.

“Denali seemed like a difficult, but feasible, next step for myself and my climbing partner. When we first saw the mountain from 60 miles away in Talkeetna, we thought we might have been in over our heads. Once we got to the mountain, though, we quickly regained our confidence.”

They decided to attempt the climb on their own—without the aid of guiding companies. They each had a 60-pound backpack filled with supplies, and a sled with 70 pounds more. They were ready for their 30-day expedition.

They navigated through glaciers, avoided avalanches, cut snow blocks for protection in their tents, and skied the 30 inches of fresh powder to acclimate to each new elevation. They finally reached the summit on day 15—at an elevation of 20,320 feet.

“I hope to continue to climb other big mountains,” says Calder. “My next feat is Mount Rainier in Washington. There are also a number of volcanoes in South America that I find interesting. A longer-term goal of mine will be to climb and snowboard an 8,000-meter peak. There are only 14 in the world, with Everest being the tallest. What makes them unique is that some people refer to that elevation as the death zone. Your body is so starved for oxygen it’s literally shutting down.”

Aside from wanting to climb places called the death zone, Calder has recently accepted a position with C&S Wholesale Grocers in the leadership development program.

“I expect that the statistical analysis skills I learned from the resource economics department will be put to use. I enjoyed the analytical nature of my major and how it tied into my interest in the environment. The basic economics concepts I’ve learned are useful for understanding various business functions and the competitive environment of the industry. Talking to various executives within the company over the past few weeks has proven that it’s incredibly useful to have the background I do in economics.”

Calder says one of his best memories from UMass was getting randomly selected to live with Rogers, who later became his climbing partner. “Not everyone gets along with their roommate. With us, UMass put probably the only two students crazy enough to enjoy cold winter climbing in the same room.”

Calder and Rogers were featured in the Upton Daily, where you can read a full description of their climb.

Courtesy of the UMass Amherst College of Social and Behavioral Sciences