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Climbing for a Cause

About 1 month after my winter climb up Mount St Helens, I stumbled across an organization, Peaks of Life, which sponsors/guides climbs to raise money for the Uncompensated Healthcare Fund at the Seattle Children's Hospital. Each climber that signs up for one of their trips, must raise money for the fund. Peaks of Life also organizes and puts on various outdoor education classes to teach new skills to climbers who want to up their game.

I still do not know how or where I found the organization, but I was immediately inspired to apply for their Mount Adams climb in May. A few weeks later, my application was accepted, so it was time to raise some money and continue my training! It was pretty easy to raise the money, because people are super willing to give a little of their hard earned money to help pay for children's medical bills. It's too bad that we live in a world/country where families can go bankrupt, because their kid has a disease, and I was proud to help raise a little to help these families.

As the climb got closer and closer, I became more and more nervous and anxious for the trip. Even though I had climbed Helens twice, this was a whole new level, where I would be summiting the 2nd highest peak in Washington, at just over 12,000 feet in elevation. The total trail is about 6 miles each way with 6,700 feet in elevation gain. The beginning of the trail is largely flat, leaving most of the elevation for the the rest of it. And, with all of that, I'd also be climbing with a bunch of complete strangers.

A couple nights before the trip, we had a team dinner, where I was able to ask some questions and feel a bit more comfortable with the whole thing. I met a few of my fellow climbers, found someone to share the driving and a tent with, and at some delicious food. The next day, I left work early and made (yet) another trip to REI and Feathered Friends to pick up my rented mountaineering boots, an avalanche beacon, and some other random supplies for the trip. Fortunately, it was during REI's anniversary sale, and I was able to save a chunk of money on items I needed to buy anyway (another raincoat, rain pants, a sun buff, a new hiking shirt, new running shorts, and crampons).

After my shopping spree, I headed up to finish up packing, relax for a bit, and wait for my road trip buddy to arrive so we could start the long drive down to the mountain. I had rented a random Airbnb in Trout Lake, WA, so we were headed down for a (hopefully) good night's rest before the big day. A little before 10pm, we were psyched to be approaching Portland, and were really really hungry; craving some burritos. The next, reliable, place we could find was the 1 Chipotle in Portland that was open until 11pm, and we were scheduled to arrive at about 10:50! Yes! We'll totally make it!

Shortly after, at maybe 10:10, we hit traffic. Complete. Standstill. Traffic. Because, Friday nights after 10 pm are a GREAT time to shut down 2 of the 3 lanes for construction. BAM! 1 hour completely wasted, and definitely no Chipotle in our future. Other options were grim, but eventually I found Muchas Gracias, a 24 hour mexican restaurant. Once we got there, I ordered 2 vegetarian breakfast burritos, to save one for the morning. Yay, food!

At about 1am we finally arrived at the Airbnb, and were greeted by two very excited dogs, who showed us the way to the door. The host stayed up to let us in, show us the bathroom (more on this in a moment) and our bedroom for the night. We carried in our stuff and quickly settled in, so we could grab 6 or so hours of sleep before an early morning to drive the rest of the way to the trailhead.

Now, the bathroom. Why did I specifically point out that we had to be shown the bathroom? That would be because it was a compostable toilet with very specific instructions for its use. Basically, it was a 5 gallon bucket with a seat on top and a piece of wood to use as a lid. After you made your (solid waste only) deposit, you sprinkled a scoop or two of ash and another scoop or so of cedar to help keep down the smell. We were instructed that a "small" amount of liquid wouldn't be too bad, but we should mostly pee on trees instead. Oh, and also, our used TP was to be put in to a paper bag beside the rustic toilet. Now, I don't mind a good compostable toilet at all (even though a short 4 years ago the idea of this would have TOTALLY freaked me out), but I hadn't yet used one that was indoors. Yay for new experiences!

The next morning, we were awoken by the morning sunlight and a rooster crowing. Since we arrived late at night, we had no idea what to expect for the rest of the property. IT WAS SPECTACULAR. Off one side of the property was an incredible view of Mount Adams, surround by farmland and trees everywhere else. In addition to the two boisterous dogs, there were a couple cats, a bunch of chickens, a sheep, plus BABY PIGS!

Wow, I've written a lot, and haven't even gotten to the climb yet. Here goes:

On the way to meet the others at the trailhead, we had to stop by the ranger station to get permits and bags for our poo. To the trailhead we went! We met our group leaders along the road to say hi, and then bumbled our way along the bumpy road to get as close as we could to the trailhead. Then, we hopped in another car to get a little further beyond a small patch of snow that our car couldn't pass. We got a little further, and then it was time to unload, wait for the others, and get moving!! As soon as we reached the trailhead, we donned our snowshoes (or skis for those guys) and were on our way.

After the initial, basically flat bit, we went up. Over. Across just one more ridge. And then over another, up one, down another, over to the next one, and up and up and up and up and up and up and up we went. As we climbed the weather in front of us looked pretty dang nice. But, behind us was increasingly scary. Some very large, gray clouds were following us, growing ever larger and more threatening. We needed to get about half way up the trail before setting up camp, to the Lunch Counter, where it was relatively flat in some spots, which would be good for camping.

Keeping a close eye on the approaching storm (which could be rain or snow or a mix), we got our waterproof clothing out and prepared to throw on at a moment's notice. After 5 or 6 hours of climbing, we finally reached the start of the Lunch Counter, and found enough decent spots for all of us to set up our 4 tents close to each other. With a bit of luck, the storm hadn't quite reached us yet, so we set up camp quickly, around 4pm or so.

Pretty much as soon as we finished putting our tents together, it started to pellet snow on us. This was pretty much the optimal situation, especially because it didn't last very long. Shortly thereafter, the skies cleared up, and the sun came out. Inside of our sun-heated kitchen tent, complete with snow seating and a snow counter, we all began heating up water to make food and fill up our water containers with freshly melted mountain snow.

After eating, I was ready to climb in my sleeping bag, warm up, and possibly take a nap. Yep, definitely take a nap. I was OUT. Eventually, I was awoken by my tent mate's exclamations about a gorgeous sunset. Curious, I poked my head out of my tent to see if it was really all that amazing. It was.

It was rapidly getting colder, so I kept my feet inside my tent, wrapped in my blanket and sleeping bag, while completely enthralled with the magic that was happening outside. Standing on solid ground, above the clouds, watching the sunset after a long and exhausting hike is what it is ALL about.

Seriously, was this real? Was I really even there? Yep, I was.

As sunset wrapped up, I climbed back inside my sleeping bag and settled in for the night, since were were waking up at the ridiculous hour of 4am to start our summit push at about 5am. Night Night.

The next morning (or really, the middle of the night) my alarm went off and it was time to wake up, eat breakfast, and get climbing. About an hour later, it was time to leave. Crampons attached, hiking poles at the ready, we went up. Then, we went up some more and more and more. At moments, the clouds were all around us, making our visibility very low. At other moments, the clouds would clear, and we could see the big puffy clouds off in the distance, watch the sunrise, and get glimpses of Mount Hood.

I was the least experienced one of the group, having never summited a big peak, so I was constantly worried about falling behind, or causing the others to slow down to keep me with the group. As an asthmatic, I was also worried about pushing myself too hard, causing an asthma attack, which would likely make it impossible to summit. So, I kept an even pace and managed to pretty much stay close to the group.

Eventually, we reached a small flat spot for a quick break for snacks and to take our packs off for a quick moment. Then up we went even more. Ahead of us, we could see Pikers Peak (the false summit), which looked incredibly far away and on a very steep incline. A while later, we finally reached the false summit, and could finally see the actual summit. See that little tiny bump about 1/3 over from the left? That's the summit as seen from the backside of Pikers Peak. You can also see some black dots along the way. Those are people for scale.

Onwards and upwards we continued. As you can see, the weather was absolute perfection, and seemed to get better as my excitement grew. I couldn't believe that we were almost there. That I was almost to the summit!

We reached the summit as a team. As usual, I reached the top and was caught completely speechless. Someone asked me how it felt; I managed only, "great" before I started to cry, and stuttered something like, "I, uh, sometimes cry...a lot...when I do things like this,, yeah, I'm good." The views were epic, the climb was challenging, and I would do it over and over again. I still don't have the words to describe it, so see for yourselves:

This trip was filled with things I had never done before:

- using an indoor composting toilet

- wearing mountaineering boots

- melting snow for water

- camping over 9000 feet in elevation

- pooping in the snow

- scooping said poo in to a paper bag

- wearing crampons

- summiting an alpine peak

- carrying/using an ice ax

- carrying the same poo back down the mountain

I cannot wait to do these things again and again...and with Peak of Life!

This is how I want to spend my weekends; climbing mountains, absorbing these views, and pushing myself ever harder. If I can do all of this, while raising money for an amazing cause, then that's all the better.

Thanks for reading and sharing in my excitement,

- Matt

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