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What a Climb Can Offer When the Summit isn’t an Option

August 10, 2012

Climber Julie Hull on Mt. Hood. Photo by Colin Stapp.

A Climb to Fight Breast Cancer was on my calendar this June.  In April, I had been lucky enough to spend four weeks in Nepal, where I trekked to Everest Base Camp (another Climb to Fight Breast Cancer) and reached the 20,305-foot summit of Island Peak. Near the end of April, I returned to Seattle elated but tired, and I knew I still had the Mt. Hood climb ahead of me. I rested briefly but then kicked my training back into gear, distracted by recent events. Prior to the Hood climb, I had endured a variety of family crises—losing my dad in January, the sudden early death of a beloved dog the first weekend of June, and the discovery of my mother’s congestive heart failure just days before the climb. Friends were flying in from the East Coast to climb with me, friends with whom I had scaled other peaks. I felt a bit overwhelmed and unfocused.

But then an eternally optimistic friend put it all in perspective for me. She said, “You don’t have to climb Mt. Hood this weekend. You get to climb Mt. Hood this weekend.” Once I wrapped my mind around that, I knew she was right. Between phone calls to the East Coast to check on the condition of my hospitalized mother, I began to gather my gear together. I made my last trip to Feathered Friends to rent a cozy but lightweight down jacket, and I stockpiled snacks for snow school and summit day. My friends and I hopped in the car on Friday and, battling horrendous rain squalls along the way, ventured south to Oregon’s Timberline Lodge.

This was my 7th Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. Back in early 2007, I opened the front page of the Seattle Times and noticed a small blurb about a meeting at REI for people interested in climbing a mountain and raising funds to support breast cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. My husband and I had each lost a maternal aunt to breast cancer, and we both had countless friends who had also been touched by the disease, so the project caught my eye. I asked if he’d be interested, and we decided to attend the meeting. Thus began my journey with Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

Through the years, I’ve climbed Adams with my husband, Tom; Rainier with our youngest child, Maggie (to celebrate my 50th birthday); the Volcanoes of Mexico; Baker; and Kilimanjaro, and I journeyed to the base camp of Everest at 17,500’. Most rewarding, I’ve raised more than $106,000 for breast cancer research. I’m confident that my efforts have made a difference.

And here I was at Mt. Hood, under snowy gray skies, the wind howling. Despite the challenging weather, there was an extraordinary feeling of camaraderie amongst the fourteen Hutch climbers and five guides. We got to know each other as we reviewed rope team, ice ax, and crampon skills (or learned them for the first time) during snow school on Saturday. After being transported by Snowcat up to the Silcox Hut later that afternoon, we enjoyed a feast of a dinner, introduced ourselves, and explained our ties to the cause. We celebrated climber Lynn Lippert’s countless years of dedication to the Hutch and her upcoming 70th birthday. Lynn will always be my hero.

We ventured out into moonlit skies at 1:00 AM the next morning, but we knew our chances of reaching the summit were slim. With relatively warm temperatures, a blanket of about 8” of new snow, and wind gusts of 45 mph, the avalanche danger would be too high during our descent. But it didn’t matter. We pushed 2,000 feet upwards before the guides deemed it prudent to turn around.

Yes, it was sometimes a challenge for me to stay upright, but I witnessed a spectacular sunrise, marveled at our up-close views of some of the mountain’s stunning landmarks, and got a great workout in…all before breakfast. I was reminded of why I climb—the beauty, the challenge, the reward. I’m hooked on the combination of physical challenge and fundraising for such a worthy cause.

Until another day, Mt. Hood.

Editor’s note – thank you adventurist Julie Hull for this post, and your unwavering commitment to funding critical breast cancer research. 

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