Happy Thanksgiving, Adventurers!
Editor’s Note: All of our Climb to Fight Breast Cancer Rainier teams summited this summer! It was a remarkable year on Mt. Rainier with extraordinary climbers participating. It was an honor to support these adventurers as they took on mountains – both physically and metaphorically. This blog is a first-hand account of climber Kevin Zelko’s adventure – and he took on the biggest mountain of all — recovery from cancer. Kevin is one of those individuals who makes you a better person just for knowing him. Here Kevin takes you along on his journey….
I’ve had some time to recover and get some rest from my big climb on Mt Rainier. I’ve used the time to reflect on and swallow what this experience has been for me, and the larger journey I’ve been over the last two years in fighting cancer. I’m finally heading back to the gym to continue my journey to health, and learn what life has in store for me next.
My “Summit the Shield” team has begun to meet up again and share our personal experiences and celebrate our victory. We have raised more than our fundraising goal for this mountainous adventure and have raised over $41,500 for cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. We had a fundraiser earlier this year during my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and raised over $26,000. Seeing that total raised to fight cancer in 2015 at over $67,500 is pretty out of this world. It shows what a small group of talented folks and an amazing network of people can achieve! I’m so lucky to have this team of seven guys make this happen.
When I began training for my Mt. Rainier climb, I was one month from ending my radiation therapy. The goal was crazy…but to quote the old punk band Jawbreaker: “Just so crazy it might just work.” I wrangled up some of the strongest friends I had and the journey of seeing these individuals meld into a strong team began with a mission: Bring the Seattle Sounders Supporters’ Shield to the top of Mount Rainier while fundraising over $40,000 for Fred Hutch.
My goal was also to get in shape and to help escape some of the pain that my body was feeling from the weaknesses it had developed in fighting cancer. Climbing the stairs in my home were filled with back pain, and I’d use the handrails to get up. I’d dodge hills. My balance was not as strong as it once was.
Alpine Ascents International, the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer’s guide service, really kept the details in check and kept us feeling like the goals ahead of us would be managed if we worked hard. Their staff is so informative and we couldn’t have achieved our goals without their teamwork.
The summer months began speeding by and soon we had to get all of our gear ready for our August climb. My team was ready to go. The night before we left for Mt. Rainier, Seattle had a crazy freak storm. It made checking the weather a bit more frequent than our normal weather checking habits. Somehow the mountain took care of us. It was a beautiful day at Paradise, the starting point of our climb (5,400 ft). We left at 10:30 AM and our next stop was Camp Muir. (10,100 ft)
My inability to keep pace with the team became pretty evident, as we continued up the mountain. We crossed Pebble Creek (7,200 ft) and hit a cool cloud cover that surrounded us. Eventually at about 7500 ft, we cleared the clouds and had a view of the peaks poking their heads above the clouds: Mts. Hood, Adams and St. Helens were stunning. My guide, who helped me arrive at Camp Muir about 90 minutes behind the others, snapped some gorgeous photos. Carrying my 45 pound backpack to Camp Muir felt like more than what I could accomplish. The whole team felt great, and we rested while snapping photos, snacking and telling stories. We slept quite well in our bunks.
The next morning, I decided that my pace would hamper the group’s mission to bring the Sounders Supporters’ Shield to the Summit. I spoke with my team and sent them to get the 46 pound trophy to the top. They tried to talk me out of it in so many ways, but I was firm with them. After breakfast and some team training, my team headed up to high camp at the Ingraham Flats (11,200 ft), and I headed back down the mountain.
When I arrived down at Paradise, my long wait to hear if they made it began. I finally got a text message from one of the guys, and indeed, the Shield had been Summited! My team achieved our goals. Everyone returned home safely, and my memories are unforgettable.
My relationship with that mountain will forever be different, and even more visible to me every time I see it. I could never have imagined that I’d have been ready four months after radiation to carry a 45 pound pack to Camp Muir. I have more than met my goals on this adventure, and I am so thankful for each person who helped me get here. My body doesn’t hurt as I walk stairs, and I will always look at the Supporters’ Shield knowing that it helped me get back to health too!
~ Kevin Zelko
..Chef Elkana and Peter presented to our team a beautiful layer cake amidst the dust at Millennium Camp. The cake message read: CONGRATUTIOS! Alpine Acents Internation. It was our summit celebration layer cake and despite any misspellings, it was flavored with good intentions and we devoured it… enjoying both our cake and the satisfaction of having reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro earlier that day – as if this experience alone was not already enough of a GIFT!…
That’s the way it has felt all along through the CLIMB TO FIGHT BREAST CANCER (Climb a Mountain – Save a Life) benefitting Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Seven years ago, I helped my mother through breast cancer treatment, and last year, too many friends were diagnosed. I stood by my best friend through treatment, too, and while it made me so very happy to be there for her, it brought anxiety and sadness as well – neither of us enjoying the feeling that the disease might run out of our control. In spite of this reality, we chemo cold-capped, laughed together as a team through treatments and follow-ups, and crossed our fingers for the benefits of technology and research to even the scales.
I was in a place last year, looking for a challenge, seeking a way to create positive impact on the scenarios unfolding for friends and family, for those with cancer, and those helping to steward dear ones through their metamorphosis in treatment. One early morning last summer, I randomly Googled the words “climbing and cancer” and was rewarded with information on the challenge offered via the CLIMB program. It was incredible to me that I could combine the outdoor adventuring I love with something impactful that I wanted to do for others. Once I committed (and gained the support of my husband for childcare!), friends and family, coworkers and community members responded and my breast cancer research fundraising total quickly exceeded the $12,500 minimum for the Mount Kilimanjaro CLIMB. I had hoped to raise the funds early in 2015 so I might then focus on training, getting my kids through the school year, and focusing on changes and responsibilities at work and at home. It was a success and overall I raised over $15,000 for the CLIMB. I scheduled the trip for August, 2015.
When July arrived, I was offered the opportunity to train at altitude, and to hike and do yoga in Montana with Margaret Burns Vap and her company, Big Sky Yoga Retreats (check out the “Cowgirls with Cancer” program) Here again was another tier of delight and sweetness in the preparation for this CLIMB – another gift. In Big Sky, I met a group of encouraging and amazing women, each of whom directly or indirectly helped me to recognize my strengths and the focus needed to pull off two weeks away and the physical endeavor of climbing to the top of Africa! August arrived so quickly and it was time to leverage the training, intention and mindset on the journey to Africa, and on the sprawling and grand mountain. Acknowledging the layers of physical, emotional and mental preparation, I boarded the plane to Tanzania on August 14 – setting off on a cloud of best wishes and good intentions, I felt then indelibly lucky to begin my journey to this mountain, one of the seven summits of the world. The #payitforward concept of this trip was primary to me and it was my goal to fly over 40 prayer flags atop Uhuru Peak. I had addressed each flag with a donor-designated name, with wishes to stay strong, to persevere or… to rest in peace.
And, with enthusiasm and effort, the excellent alliance between Fred Hutch and Alpine Ascents International, and the African Big Expeditions Guides and Porters, I DID it. Indeed, there was a humbling moment at ~18,000’ where I grew very tired, but with the encouragement of my Alpine Ascents guide, Tom Chambers, and support of the team, it was just a moment of discomfort; it proved to be just a blip. And, that’s the great thing about a solid team, they help get you back on track.
Before I knew it, Stella Point was in view. After Stella, it seemed simple. One foot after the other. A few false summits, but in my mind, the goal was going to be reached. Trekking onward, following the crunch of our Tanzanian guide’s footsteps and pressure breathing with a smile on my face, I saw the Uhuru Peak signs silhouetted on the peak and beginning to gleam with the brilliant red and orange fire cast from the sunrise, on what seemed the edge of the world. The nearly six hours night climb was rewarded with a view of the glaciers to the left, and to the right, a carpet-like horizon of clouds alight with the eruption of the warm, brilliant, optimistic sunrise.
We were the first ones to arrive at the summit on August 23 at 5:55 am. My two fellow hikers, Dave and Patrick; our Alpine Ascents International guide, Tom Chambers; and our Big Expeditions, Ltd. Guides – Rodman, Frank and Abraham all reached the summit with relative ease that morning. All of the guides had achieved this summit many times before and were somewhat humble about their achievements, but for me this was purely magical.
….I had a long look around and took the prayer flags out of my pack to hang them from one end to the other on the Peak sign. There were no crowds to hinder my view of these flags waving and billowing, and I enjoyed a robust sense of pride and optimism. The prayer flags waved as Dave, Patrick and I surveyed the incredible 360 degree view, laughed, took selfies and summit shots and humbly stared at the wonder of light rising over the clouds here at the highest point in Africa, on the equator at 19,341 ft.
I wasn’t thinking then about the lack of oxygen, the work it took to reach this elevation, or the long climb back down. It was an incredible time of presence that I will recall and cherish forever. Layer after layer of hard work, appreciation, support, intention, endurance, teamwork and love of the idea of climbing for a cause personal to me was topped with the icing on the proverbial cake as the light continued to rise and daylight warmed and emboldened the summit. The beating sound of the prayer flags whipped in the early morning wind atop Mount Kilimanjaro and sent best wishes to all across the sky…
Uhuru Peak, means Freedom Peak, and this journey checked a lot of boxes for me – paying it forward for friends, family and those i had not yet met, and personally reminding me that setting a huge goal, amidst so many responsibilities to others in my personal life, was indeed possible. The trek embodied the fact that freedom means so many things – freedom from self-doubt, freedom from thick air, freedom from fear, and freedom from the idea that some challenges are too hard; They aren’t – particularly if you pair up with the right team, a good plan and positive intentions.
My layer cake was indeed fully iced, and every bite delicious.
Deirdre Childs ~ Adventurer. Philanthropist. Daughter. Mother. Friend.
All photos courtesy of Deirdre Childs
Mt. Baker is a landmark, a beacon, a beautiful volcano standing tall in Northern Washington state. It straddles the US- Canadian border and you can see it for miles on either side. It’s the view I grew up with from my hometown, so it’s not a coincidence it was my first Climb to Fight Breast Cancer peak.
On July 25-27, a team of dedicated Climb to Fight Breast Cancer adventurers set out to fundraise life-saving dollars for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, while climbing this gorgeous mountain. On the team were Joshua, Chris, Linda, John and Andrea ~ A breast cancer survivor, a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researcher, and 3 doctor/nurse/heath care providers. These amazing individuals signed up to climb a mountain to save others. They trained for months, solicited donations from friends, family and colleagues and traveled signifiant distances.
Their journey began at picturesque Schreibers Meadow before ascending the summer climbing route to the Easton Glacier. Getting to the Easton Glacier requires carrying 50 pounds of gear up the famous Railroad Grade, a rock and scree knife-edge trail carved into the hillside. It drops off on either side.
After arriving at the campsite hours later, everyone pitched tents, hydrated, ate dinner and rested up after a long day. They had snow school the next day where they reviewed or learned mountaineering techniques.
Mountain sunrises and sunsets are always the grandest. The North Cascades have a magical feeling and one never tires from waking up there. Shadows cast across glaciers, moraines and summits reflect light of thousand colors and the kind of beauty hard to capture with a lens but easy to remember in your mind.
This was a very strong team both in training and in heart. Climbing with a breast cancer survivor always gives these adventures added meaning.
The team crossed crevasses, rocks, and took in all the beauty. They ascended next to the crater and climbed the Roman Wall.
Views from the summit of Mt. Baker are stunning! Turning 360 degrees and the team could see for miles. They looked down into the very elusive Picket Mountain Range, a far away wild place hard to access and truly coveted by mountaineers and backpackers.
Congratulations, Mt. Baker team.