Teen Triumph

September 2021 View more

By Susanne Baker

After climbing Denali, Lucy Westlake left for Eugene, Oregon, to cover the track and field Olympic team trials as a teen journalist.

Naperville’s Lucy Westlake climbed into the record books in June as the youngest female to summit the highest point in each of America’s 50 states. On Father’s Day, the 17-year-old and her dad, Rodney Westlake, ascended the final 3,000 feet to the top of Denali, the tallest mountain in Alaska and Lucy’s last U.S. state peak to tackle. 

A similar quest by the father-daughter pair fell short in 2017 when they had to abandon their plans when their guides were enlisted to join a National Park Service rescue to save climbers lost in whiteout conditions near the top of mountain. This climbing season on Denali would be the last shot for the Naperville North senior to claim the title as the youngest female to climb all 50 state highpoints. Previous title holder Kristen Kelliher was 18 years, 1 month old when she summited Denali, then called Mount McKinley, in late May 2012. Lucy is seven months younger.

Instead of hiring a guide service, as in the past, Lucy and Rodney Westlake opted to trek on their own and joined up with climbers from Colorado. All but Lucy and her dad turned back.

“We started with nine [climbers], but ended with [the two of us],” Lucy said. “It was both terrifying and thrilling to lead my dad on a rope, just the two of us, 20,310 feet to the summit of Denali. It was the culmination of 10 years—learning, exploring, and growing together in the mountains.”

Naperville residents Lucy and Rodney Westlake climbed Alaska’s Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

Lucy said when she finally reached the top, she expected more mountain to pop up. But it didn’t. “It was an amazing feeling. It was pretty surreal being up there,” she said. “It was an incredible experience overall; it definitely taught me a lot about myself.”

Accomplishing her goal with her dad on Father’s Day made the quest even more special. “We’ve grown a lot together,” Lucy said, “not only like mountaineers, but I think as people too. People refer to us as the dynamic duo. I admit, we make a good team,” she said.

Lucy said the pair worked so hard and spent so much time and effort climbing Denali. Between the two trips, they spent 40 days living on a mountain. “It was amazing being with him,” Lucy said. “I couldn’t have done it without him, and I don’t think he could have done it without me.”

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Naperville Sun, and is edited for length and reprinted with permission. 

Photos courtesy Lucy Westlake