Vern Tejas electrified Alaskans in 1988 when he became the first person to complete a solo winter ascent of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in winter, outlasting the harsh seasonal elements with a dramatic climb.
During a storm Tejas had to dig a snow cave for survival and later said he felt the love and prayers of Alaskans supporting him as he waited out the blizzard in order to return safely.
That was the beginning of Tejas’ high-profile achievements in the mountaineering world. He spent the next two decades roaming the earth as an internationally acclaimed mountain guide.
Tejas reached the top of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent, while recording the first solo climb on Antarctica’s 16,067-foot Mount Vinson. He has since established two speed records for completing the Seven Summits, the most recent in 2010 when Tejas finished the circuit in 134 days at age 57.
In 2011, Tejas, who has entertained guided clients with harmonica music at high altitude and is a renowned fiddler, reached the summit of McKinley for a 50th time, an unofficial record. He first ascended the tallest peak in North America in 1978.
Among Tejas’ more offbeat adventures are riding a mountain bike up—and down—Argentina’s 22,835-foot Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, and paragliding off the summit of Mount Elbrus in Russia, the tallest mountain in Europe.
Early in his mountaineering career, Tejas performed a solo rescue of two Korean climbers in danger high on McKinley’s slopes. His trademarks then were a shaved head and a bird’s nest of a beard. The beard disappeared over time.
Despite his worldwide image developed over a quarter century, for Alaskans Tejas remains most closely identified with McKinley, the pre-eminent symbol of the Last Frontier.
– Lew Freedman