Climbing high for a cause | John Carlson

Let me ask you an important question: When is the last time you did something hard to support a good cause?

  • Tuesday, July 29, 2008 1:48pm
  • Opinion

Let me ask you an important question: When is the last time you did something hard to support a good cause?

At 6 a.m. last Thursday, seven of us met at Alpine Ascents near the Seattle Center to fight a deadly disease. None of us are doctors, but we had signed up for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer to support research protocols at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. We agreed to climb Mt. Rainier (or at least give it a good shot) and get people to sponsor us with tax deductible donations to the Hutch.

The group included Melinda Gage, currently a stay-at-home mom in Sammamish and Ben Barrie, from Chaffey Construction, who lives in Newcastle. When his boss, Bob Chaffey, from Clyde Hill found out, he also signed up. Stasia Steele is a wife and mom from Kirkland. Jessica Quinn from Seattle is entering law school back east. And John Gebert, still in his 20s, raised more than $17,000 and flew in from Philadelphia to honor his mom, who died last summer from breast cancer.

Climbing Rainier is more than difficult. It is an ordeal. I did it once before, and four years ago wrote about an unsuccessful summit for an earlier Hutch climb. You need to get in shape, which includes a series of training hikes. You should learn the fundamentals of mountain climbing, although Alpine Ascents includes training in the mountaineering basics during your weekend. And you need to psychologically prepare yourself for one of the most difficult physical challenges you will ever face.

Our regimen Thursday morning was simple. Meet our guiding team and accomplish Phase One of the climb: a four mile uphill hike through a huge snowfield to Camp Muir wearing 30-pound backpacks. Paradise is at the 5,400 foot level, and Camp Muir is just under 10,100 feet.

We would spend the night there in a hut, hike the next day to our tents at the 11,400 ft. level at Ingraham Flats, then wait until midnight to begin ascending toward Rainier’s summit at 14,410 feet.

Falling rock is always a danger at Rainier, along with gaping, occasionally camouflaged crevasses (which is why a climbing guide is advisable). But above all else it is exhausting. Jessica turned around on day one. Hour-after-hour-after-hour you climb upward into thinning air, dropping temperatures and gusting winds in the middle of the night. But the rising sun is spectacular and briefly turns the mountain snow pink.

At 6:05 Saturday morning most of the group stepped over the crater rim and trudged across it to Columbia Crest, the tallest point in Washington state. As tired as we were, we still had to descend – all the way back to the Paradise parking lot. We made it about 3:15 that afternoon, weary, relieved, euphoric and gratified.

If anything about this experience sounds interesting to you, contact The Hutch at 206-667-1398 or (disclosure time: my wife Lisa, a onetime volunteer for The Climb now helps run it). You will improve your fitness while helping a cause aimed at beating a disease that hits one in seven women in her lifetime. And one thing more. Mt. Rainier will never seem quite the same once you’ve stood on top of it.

John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at

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