Microsoft employee John Lowe summits Mt. Rainier

Growing up near Detroit, Mich., a.k.a. “Motor City,” John Lowe never dreamed he’d become a hiking and cycling addict, let alone climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Growing up near Detroit, Mich., a.k.a. “Motor City,” John Lowe never dreamed he’d become a hiking and cycling addict, let alone climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier.

To native Midwesterners, including this reporter, Education Hill might as well be a mountain. But a funny thing happened after Lowe took a job at Microsoft Corporation, where he’s a marketing manger for the Office Live Small Business division.

The 34-year-old Redmond resident explained, “The first year I was here (2006), it was so different. I had to take some time to just get the lay of the land, get used to my surroundings. The second year, I learned how to snowboard, bought my first dirt bike, starting hiking on Tiger Mountain and did my first STP (Seattle to Portland bike tour). I had always looked at outdoors people as kinda weird … (but) this past year, I’ve been taking advantage of everything this area has.”

That means everything including exploration of “The Mountain” — as even Pacific Northwest transplants quickly learn is the one and only, majestic Rainier.

Lowe was a member of one of two Microsoft teams which scaled the 14,411-foot Rainier this summer, raising $80,000 that will fund several projects to maintain and improve Washington’s national parks. The teams each garnered $20,000 in pledges to be paid off with success in the climb. Microsoft matched the $40,000 generated by the teams.

“We are grateful for the support we received from these Microsoft employees,” said Eleanor Kittelson, executive director of Washington’s National Park Fund. “They are a perfect example of how private funding can make a difference in our national parks while connecting communities to the environment.”

Lowe feels glad that he and his teammates — co-workers Ted Hudek, Kevin Litwack, Benjamin Neuwirth, Mike Kaufman, Jonas Boli, Gary Chen and Kevin Huang — have done something to help preserve our exceptional state parks.

However, he said he was drawn to the challenging climb for personal reasons, too.

“Since I moved here, I could always see the summit of Mt. Rainier in the distance. It always spoke to me, it’s so beautiful. I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to say I stood at the top?’,” Lowe mused.

He was inspired after seeing a Microsoft team complete the climb in 2007 — and when he heard that the company was forming two teams in 2008, he was the first to sign up.

We asked Lowe exactly how he trained for such a grueling climb, given his relative lack of experience.

“Mt. Si was the next level after Tiger Mountain,” he noted. “We took 30-40 pound packs up to the summit. Then it was Mailbox Peak, just south of Mt. Si, which is taller and has a more rugged terrain and incline. It was practicing techniques, remembering to stay hydrated and fueled. Almost all our hikes were done in heavy snow, which was good because we knew we’d encounter that on our route through Disappointment Cleaver.”

It’s called that, by the way, because it’s the spot where many climbs have ended, when climbers decided they just couldn’t hack it.

The week before Lowe and his teammates did their climb, someone had died on the mountain, which made him a little nervous. But his team was extremely fortunate to have a guide named Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, who once held the record for the fastest climb on Mt. Everest.

The first day of the Rainier climb took Lowe and his peers up to Camp Muir, elevation 1,000 feet. By the second day, they ascended to 11,200 feet.

On the night of the second day, they passed through the Cleaver in very dark, windy, frigid conditions. Two of his colleagues almost didn’t make it. One fell to his knees and vomited, the other suffered a neck sprain. But they were so close, they knew they had to press on.

“As we crossed the crater, after a good four or five months of training, I finally realized, ‘I’m gonna make it!’ and I started tearing up, got really emotional,” said Lowe.

Standing atop Rainier, looking down at Seattle, “was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” he recalled. “I will never again look at the mountain in the same way as I did before and I’ll never take it for granted. It made me feel like a real Washingtonian, gave me so much pride and a feeling of wanting to take care of it and introduce it to other people.”

So after climbing Mt. Rainier, what do you do for an encore?

“Everyone keeps asking me that,” Lowe replied, laughing. “Maybe go hunting for Sasquatch? Try climbing Denali?”

His immediate plans were to bike in the RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party). And he’s talking to people at Microsoft about making a Rainier climb an annual tradition.

Video: Lowe and his teammates on “The Mountain”.

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