Mountain climber sets sights higher: to combat human trafficking

Ryan Melcher, of Front Royal, Va., plans to climb Mount McKinley to raise money to combat human trafficking. (Courtesy of Ryan Melcher)

WASHINGTON – Before he vanished while climbing the world’s highest mountain in 1924, British explorer George Mallory was asked why he would climb Mt. Everest. “Because it’s there,” Mallory famously replied.

Ryan Melcher, 40, who lives in Front Royal, Va., and works in Falls Church, Va., is packing his bags and plans to leave Friday to attempt to scale Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

He’s climbing Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, to raise money for the Polaris Project, which is an anti-human trafficking group based in D.C., Melcher said.

Melcher, who does web and graphic design, video and 3-D animation, says he’s passionate about ending human trafficking.

“I’m a Christian and I believe everyone’s made in God’s image,” he said.

But the climb won’t be easy.

“It’s an incredibly difficult mountain to climb, only being 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, so it’s very cold. Also the altitude can play tricks on you as far as the amount of oxygen you can take in,” he said.

Mount McKinley’s summit is at 20,320 feet.

“The chances that anyone can reach the top is a 50 percent chance. That’s just the way it is,” Melcher said.

It should take Melcher and his guides about two weeks to reach high camp at 17,000 feet, where they will wait to see whether the weather allows an attempt to reach the summit.

To prepare, Melcher has been in the gym five days a week and hiking once a week.

“I’ve been working out really hard,” he says.


Ryan Melcher stands on the Kahiltna Glacier with Mt. Hunter in the background during a training trip on Mt. McKinley. (Courtesy of Ryan Melcher)

Does fear creep into his heart when he contemplates scaling the continent’s tallest peak?

“You have to take a healthy fear with you to Denali … if you’re not going there with a healthy fear … you might just pay with your life,” he said.

“My wife is the most scared, I think out of anybody.”

Despite her own concerns, Melcher’s wife, Marilla, has given him lots of support for his climb.

Melcher also says he has the safest guide service on the mountain, which will give him the best chance possible to reach the top and return to his wife.

Besides raising funds for the Polaris Project, Melcher says he’ll make the climb in memory of his late father, David, who exposed him to the wonders of hiking.

“I’m excited. I’m ready to go after this mountain and go for the summit,” Melcher says.

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