Climbing for a Cause: Summiting Mt. Rainier for the Himalayan Outreach Project

This summer Clymb Adventures own Laura Atherton summited Mt. Rainier. Towering in at 14,411 feet above sea level, Mt. Rainier is the 5th highest peak in the lower 48 states. As a bucket-list achievement for many aspiring mountaineers, Rainier’s summit had long been in Laura’s sights. The once distant goal became a reality when Laura found out about NW Alpine Guides summit climb fundraiser benefiting the Himalayan Outreach Project. I recently sat down with Laura to chat more about the experience.

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How did you find out about the Mt. Rainier fundraiser climb?

I’ve always been passionate about travel, the outdoors, and embracing new challenges. Going to Nepal and trekking through the soaring, snow-capped Himalayas, has always been a dream of mine. Fortunately, at the beginning of summer I found out that I would be going to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp this coming November. While doing some post-booking research, I caught wind of a Nepal fundraiser climb right in my backyard. Guided by the by the famed Nepali climber and guide, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, I couldn’t say no to the opportunity.

What’s the mission of Himalayan Outreach Project?

Last year, Nepal suffered their worst natural disaster, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed over 8,000 people and destroyed millions of homes. Over a year has passed and Nepal is struggling to rebuild thousands of schools and homes. The Himalayan Outreach Project, founded by climber and guide Dennis Broadwell, seeks to rebuild the Gumela Primary School and Sherpa homes in the lower Khumbu area of Nepal.

How did the climb benefit the recovery efforts in Nepal?

Nepal still needs help to rebuild after the 2015 earthquake, yet attention has since shifted to other more recent geo-political and natural disaster events. With climbing being such a big part of Nepalese culture, economy, and tourism, the international climbing community has rallied together to put together events like this that benefit recovery efforts in Nepal. NW Alpine Guides, with the help of Lakpa Rita Sherpa, put together this fundraiser climb to raise awareness and funds in North America. Funds raised were directly donated to the Himalayan Outreach Project.

You only had a month to get ready for this climb, how did you prepare?

Knowing I only had a few weeks to prepare, I focused my training efforts on endurance. Before committing to the climb I was already training for a 2 day, 200-mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland, which definitely helped a lot. In addition, a few weeks prior to the climb I had planned a 15 mile and 6,000 foot hike in the Columbia River Gorge. I loaded my pack with extra weight to get comfortable carrying a heavy load. On the hike I intentionally ramped up my normal hiking pace. I knew if I could get through that hike at fast pace, I would be able to slow down on Rainier and enjoy a more comfortable pace. Although I only had a short window to physically prepare, I felt confident with my cross training and previous experience summiting Mt. Hood at 11,250 feet. During this time I was also able to personally raise over $1500 through crowdfunding for the Himalayan Outreach Project.

Tell us about the Rainier climb, what was going through your mind?

Reaching the 14,411 foot summit of Rainier on July 21, 2016 was the most physically and mentally challenging climb of my life, but knowing that I was climbing for a cause and with the full support of all my donors made it that much more achievable. We left Camp Muir at midnight, setting out on the route through Disappointment Cleaver. Guided by headlamp, we crossed Ingraham Flats and a set of terrifying, yet exhilarating ladder bridges over unfathomably deep ice crevasses. I’ll never forget the last 500 feet of climb as we broke through the clouds as the sun began to rise, illuminating the horizon behind us. We reached the summit accompanied by Lakpa Rita Sherpa, and as humble as can be, he embraced us with saying “job well done.”

So what’s next?

I’m heading to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp in November. It will be amazing for everything to come full circle.  I’m excited to hike through the Himalayas, connect with the warm Nepali culture, and witness Mt. Everest in all its glory. After that, I have always had Kilimanjaro on my radar, hopefully a bike tour in Cuba, and continuing to explore the classic Northwest peaks.