Climbers Go Where No One Has Gone Before
August 01, 1998 | By PETER MARTEKA; Hartford Courant Correspondent

``Because it was there '' has been the answer from nearly every mountaineer who has ever climbed a peak.

But three Connecticut residents can add to that by saying, ``Because it was there -- and no one had been there before.''

In July, mountaineers Douglas Bonoff of East Hampton, Douglas Zimmerman of Woodstock and Robert Plucenik of Brooklyn became the first climbers in recorded mountaineering history to conquer South Kennedy, a 12,000-foot mountain in Canada's Yukon territory.

``There are so many groups of medium-sized peaks that never get visited. We saw it as an attractive peak to climb,'' Bonoff said.

Mount Kennedy, a sister summit, was climbed by Robert F. Kennedy in 1965. The Canadians named the 16,286-foot-high peak after the late New York senator. Since Kennedy climbed that mountain, the area has seen few visitors -- until the Connecticut trio showed up for two weeks.

The top of South Kennedy wasn't exactly a place where one could stand and stick a flag in the ground to celebrate the moment, the climbers said. The pinnacle was a pyramid created by three ridges that came together as a knife-edge shard of ice.

The American Alpine Club, a national nonprofit organization based in Golden, Colo., has represented mountaineers and rock climbers since 1902. According to officials there, Bonoff, Zimmerman and Plucenik were the first recorded mountaineers to climb to the peak. The Alpine Club of Canada, founded in 1906, has also verified the ascent.

``It was cool,'' said Zimmerman, a supervising environmental analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection. ``It was one of the pointiest summits I have ever been up, and all you could do was touch it. We could basically just climb up and look over the sharp edge. It was breathtaking.

``The thing is, we never planned to do this. We saw the mountain and said, `We need to do this.' It was only a side trip,'' Zimmerman said.

The trio went to Alaska and the Yukon territory to climb Mount Alverstone, Mount Hubbard and Mount Kennedy. While many climbers are attracted to Alaska's Mount McKinley (at 20,320 feet the highest point in North America), the trio decided to head out to Cathedral Glacier and the mountains that surround the frozen wasteland.

``We had the area the size of Connecticut all to ourselves,'' Bonoff said. ``There wasn't a gum wrapper or tea bag in sight. There was no evidence of human inhabitation for 50 miles. I can't imagine I'll ever have that feeling again.''

The trio has climbed together since college. They have climbed peaks in North America and South America, but have no plans to conquer Mount Everest.

``We've been climbing together for 23 years,'' Bonoff said. ``We know each other well enough that there are no surprises. Mount Everest? We all have families and commitments now.''

But for this trio, the side trip ended up being one of those ``because it was there'' stories they can tell to their children and grandchildren. Now that the trio has become the first to climb the peak, will they rename it? Perhaps Mount Bonzimplu?

``It's been South Kennedy since 1963,'' Bonoff said. ``We aren't about to go stir the international waters by renaming it.''



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