Tuesday, June 14

Climb to Fight Breast Cancer

What a weekend! Some of you may remember that Tom and I were raising money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. After raising $3000 (Tom) and $2500 (me), on June 11-12 we attempted to summit Mt Hood. Thanks again to all of our generous donors!

On Friday we drove to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt Hood and spent a windy night camped in their parking lot. At times the wind was so strong it made the truck shake! It did not bode well for the weekend...

On Saturday we woke up early and met the rest of the group for a day of snow school. We hiked up to a snowy patch on the lower mountain and got down to business. We learned a lot of very cool things, such as how to stop yourself from sliding down an icy slope head first and upside down (and yep, we got to practice that)! We learned that the pointy end of an ice axe is called the pick, and the blunt end is called an adz, and the hole in the adz that rope goes through is an adz hole. Heh, heh.

Snow school, with Hood lurking in the background (upper right)

Doug, our guide, is in the green pants

After snow school ended around 3 pm, we headed back to the Timberline Lodge for an early dinner and then hit the sack by 6:30 pm. Why so early to bed? Because we needed to wake up at 10:30 pm (you read that right) in order to start the climb!

Part of the climb involves a snowcat ride to the top of the ski lifts at 8500 ft. From there, you climb an additional 2700 ft to the top of Mt Hood. Or at least, that's the plan.

Our snowcat was scheduled to depart at midnight, and there was another group leaving at 2 am. Nine of us piled into the snowcat and headed up the mountain. It was snowing and blowing heavily. In short, the weather didn't look good. We arrived at 8500 ft, got out of the snowcat, and were immediately pummeled by winds and blowing snow.

Doug, the lead guide, gathered us all around and told us that although he didn't think there were any safety issues, it would be an uncomfortable climb and there were no guarantees we would summit. If people did not want to climb, they didn't have to. Four of the 9 climbers in our group got back in the snowcat and headed down without ever really setting foot on the mountain. The remaining 7 of us (5 climbers and 2 guides) headed out into the blizzard.

Gearing up in the blizzard

And we're off!

Why did we bother to climb in nasty weather? Well, first of all, we were there to climb. Even if there wasn't a chance at the summit, Tom and I didn't have any mountaineering experience and we wanted to see what it was actually like up there. But that's not all: the night before, 2 guides had summitted. Upon returning, they said that although the lower half of the mountain was stormy, once they hit 9500 ft they punched through the cloud layer and it was clear to the summit. We hoped we'd have the same luck.

The climbing was tough and we almost immediately put on crampons because the winds had blown most of the snow off the surface of the mountain, leaving behind an icy slope. One member of our group was particularly scared and uncomfortable (and honestly, I don't blame her). She kept hinting at wanting to head down, but never actually said she was done.

We continued to plod up the slope. We hit 9200 ft, and the clouds hadn't cleared. We pressed on to 9500 ft, where groups normally rope up (put on climbing harnesses and rope together for safety). And wouldn't ya know it, at 9500 ft, the sky miraculously opened up. Although the winds were still gusting up to 40 mph, we could see stars and the summit of Mt Hood. Things were looking good!

Doug gathered us around him again and spoke loudly, so we were sure to hear him over the howling wind. "I have something important to say and you all need to listen carefully. That edge over there that looks like it drops into the abyss? It does. Nobody go near it." We all squinted into the blowing snow and took note of the area Doug was talking about. Then we started to put on our harnesses.

As we roped up I looked around and noticed one of our guides was throwing up. He was so quiet about it that I wouldn't have noticed except that his headlamp was turned on, creating an inadvertent spotlight on his sickness. Once he finished, it was decided: the sick guide needed to head down, and he would take the scared girl with him. That left 5 of us: Tom and I, Tim (a guy from CO who had raised over $40,000!), Denise (a quietly determined mother of 3), and Doug, our guide.

And then there were 5 (4 + the photographer)

We started heading up towards Crater Rock. After ascending another 500 ft, the clouds moved in again. One second we could clearly make out the Big Dipper, and in another second the stars and summit were obscured. Doug shouted down the rope that it was time to turn back. Until that point, the wind and snow and lack of visibility had been uncomfortable, but not dangerous. And when the sky cleared briefly at 9500 ft, summitting had actually seemed possible. However, we were reaching a height on the mountain where white-out conditions could be very dangerous, and the worsening weather meant we had to head back. (Later we learned that the 2 a.m. snowcat ride was cancelled altogether. The snowcat driver said conditions were just too nasty to get the snowcat up, let alone drop off a group of climbers.)

We made it to Crater Rock at 10,000 ft. Click the image to enlarge.

Tom and I heading down.

We had brought along prayer flags signed by climbers in the group. Many climbers dedicated a flag to someone they know who had breast cancer. Ideally, we would have brought these flags to the summit. Although we never made it to the top, we stopped around 6 am as the sun attempted to break through the clouds, and took a picture with the prayer flags.

It was a good reminder of why we were doing this climb. Although we didn't summit, we are proud to have raised so much money for breast cancer research, and we are proud to have stuck with the climb until weather turned us back.


p.s. Of course, the very next day around 11 a.m., here's what the mountain looked like:

Where were those clear skies when we needed 'em?


At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Jessica L C said...

You guys are awesome! Thank you for climbing for such an honorable cause!
See ya soon,

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever wonder why so much more fundraising is done for breast cancer than for prostate cancer? Maybe because many more people die from the former? Not true: the number of people with prostate cancer and the number that die from it, are very close to the corresponding numbers for breast cancer! Prostate cancer deserves a higher profile and MORE MONEY!

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done!

Kim, Eric and critters


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