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

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2016, 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.

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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.