Climbing for a cause

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.

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-foot level at Ingraham Flats, then wait until midnight to begin ascending toward Rainier’s summit at 14,410 feet. 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 a.m. on Saturday, most of the group stepped over the crater rim and trudged across it to Columbia Crest, the tallest point in Washington. As tired as we were, we still had to descend — all the way back to the Paradise parking lot. We made it back down at 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 fhcrc.org/climb.

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: Mount Rainier will never seem quite the same once you’ve stood on top of it.

John Carlson broadcasts a daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at jcarlson@fisherradio.com.

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