Climbing to beat cancer

Rediscovering a passion pushed aside by work and other obligations has led an Innisfail man to put himself to the ultimate test, climbing the highest peak in North America.

Rediscovering a passion pushed aside by work and other obligations has led an Innisfail man to put himself to the ultimate test, climbing the highest peak in North America.

This is all while raising money for breast cancer research.

As a younger man, Mark McCracken, now 45, worked in Banff and Lake Louise as both a supply runner and horse guide; he also worked as a guide in Colorado.

“I’ve always been in the outdoors, from when I was a kid I’d climb,” said McCracken. “It all came to a crashing halt when I jumped in the oilpatch.”

The oilpatch worker had to put aside these adventurous exploits when he started working to support his family — but one mountaineering course and he was hooked.

Now he plans to climb Mount McKinley, also known as Mount Denali, in Alaska, at 6,168 metres above sea level. The climb is about 5,500 metres from base to peak, giving McCracken an arduous 21-day task to reach the peak.

He and seven others — two guides and five other climbers — through Alaska Mountaineering are set to embark on the journey starting on June 12.

He’s getting himself in shape for the climb by taking advantage of his surroundings as much as possible. Working in the north on the rigs, he doesn’t have much time off but he makes do.

“I’ve been snowshoeing with 45-to-70-pound packs and dragging a 50-pound sled with me,” said McCracken. “I’ve been volunteering evenings, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. At around noon or 1 p.m., I’d strap on my snowshoes, my pack and my sled and go for a five-or-seven-mile lap.

“I think I did about 90 miles in March.”

He just got back from a six-day expedition climb up Mount Columbia, the second highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. He has also climbed Mount Rainier, Joffre and Assiniboine.

This week, he was driving to the Banff/Canmore area to hike for a few days before returning to work.

Having no direct connection to someone who has suffered breast cancer, McCracken said he got his inspiration from watching National Football League games.

“I’m lucky enough to do this, mountaineering is not a cheap sport, and I wanted to give back,” said McCracken. “Every October, NFL players are wearing pink to support breast cancer research and I figured: why can’t I do the same thing?”

He plans on wearing some pink during his climb.

So far, he has raised about $4,000, and he hopes to raise more to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society.

To donate and for more information, visit

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