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Twenty-Seven climbers SUMMIT MOUNT BAKER!

August 13, 2018

Lydig baker summit-37Unsure of the time, only knowing it was getting lighter outside, I laid in my tent waiting for the alarm to go off. At 5:30am, I would start the day I’ve been excitedly preparing for since last year. As I waited for the alarm, I thought about the training we received the day before in snow school – how to walk in crampons, how to use the ice axe, how to execute a self-arrest. I mentally reviewed my pack inventory to make sure I had everything I needed and knew where it was. I was so thankful it would be considerably lighter than on the hike to basecamp the day before.

When my alarm finally went off, I was already out of my tent getting ready for the day. I’m glad I woke up early because I witnessed a beautiful sunrise and got to watch camp slowly come to life as climbers emerged from their tents to get ready. Our guides were already up and boiling water for coffee and getting breakfast ready. At breakfast, we got a recap of the plan discussed the night before.  Group one would leave the Easton Glacier first, group two would then leave Crag View and our group (group three) would follow about a half-hour later.  If all went to plan, we would all meet up on the summit around the same time.

Mt. Baker beautyOnce group 2 started to fade into the distance, our team began our summit bid. We decided that instead of hiking down and over to the Squak Glacier, we would climb up and over the rocks that separated it from camp. While this may sound simple, this was my first time climbing in mountaineer boots, which are rigid and unforgiving, and the rocks were sharp and unstable. This was Baker’s first challenge. With trepidation and determination, I slowly crossed the rocks repeating in my mind “don’t fall and hurt yourself 200 feet from camp!” Finally, I hopped off the rocks and onto the glacier.

On the glacier, we strapped on our crampons, got out our ice axes, and broke into three rope teams. For the next 4,600+ vertical feet, me, Rays (the guide), Weston, and Eric would be tied together; required to communicate and work together to ultimately be responsible for each other’s safety. We were instructed not to be more than 25 feet apart, to not step on the rope, and to remember snow school. With that, it was time to climb.

And climb we did. We climbed for hours. I learned that when you’re hiking in snow, it Lydig baker summit-24can seem like you’re going nowhere quickly. With 25 feet of rope separating you from your teammates, you have a lot of time to think about how you’re going nowhere quickly. Thankfully, our guides were awesome.  They broke up our ascent into hour chunks. Every hour on the dot, we would stop to rest, eat, and hydrate. After making sure we were all in good shape, we would put on the packs and continue to climb.

While climbing in the snow was tedious, Mt. Baker is one of the most amazing and beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. Crevasses are everywhere, some just a foot wide, but deeper than you can see. Others are giant and help shape the mountain façade you see from sea-level. The views of Sherman Peak (false summit) and the surrounding ranges were breathtaking. The Sherman crater, where we took our final break before summiting, appeared to be alive and emitted a strong sulfur smell unlike anything I’ve seen.

Lydig baker summit-50After leaving the crater, we headed to the Roman Wall. A section of the climb I’ve been worrying about since I began training. It just sounds intimidating. One foot in front of the other, we began to ascend. This was the final obstacle Mt. Baker had for us before the plateau to the summit. As we made our way up, a group was coming down. It was one of ours – they had all made it! We moved aside, perched on the Roman Wall, and congratulated them all as they passed. They returned words of encouragement.  We began again and not 20-minutes later, we stepped aside for another group. It was group 2 and they had also all made it!

You can rightfully assume that after learning the two other groups had successfully summited, we were fired up to summit. We needed the morale boost, too.  It was almost 2pm, the sun was beating down, and the snow was slushy. Our goal was in sight, this Roman Wall and these conditions were our crux. Again, we stepped back on the path and pushed forward.

Finally, after emerging over the wall, I saw the plateau and the bald top of the summit. Just a few hundred yards away was the geographic point I’ve been thinking about since last year. The spot I told my family, friends, colleagues, clients, and anyone who’d listen, I would stand on and wave a banner for Fred Hutch. Even though my legs were tired, my pace quickened. Up one last hill and we were there.  We dropped our packs and celebrated. I opened mine and pulled out the Climb to Fight Cancer banner and prepared it to wave where it belonged, at the top of a mountain.

IMG_0195After the team photos were done, we ate quietly and took in the breathtaking views. I looked at the personal flag I brought with me and thought about my friends and family who have fought cancer and succeeded, and I thought about my friends and family who fought and did not succeed. A bit overwhelmed with emotion, I found solace in the hope that my small contribution to this team effort to help the Hutch would help save more lives.

After about 30 minutes, it was time to pack up and head back down to basecamp to camp for the night. We had about 5 more hours of climbing ahead and the promise of camp stove macaroni and cheese waiting for us. When we finally got there and recovered from the climb, we celebrated with our teammates.  The atmosphere was jubilant knowing we achieved our goals – 27 successful summits and over $133,000 raised for life-saving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. After sharing stories and seeing photos of the day, we all turned in early. After an entire day of climbing, we all slept great that night.IMG_0967

– By Bill Michie, Lydig Construction

Editor’s Note – THANK YOU Lydig Construction. Over two mountain climbs (Mt. Adams 2012 and Mt. Baker 2018) you have raised $250,000 for breakthrough, pioneering research at Fred Hutch. You have our heartfelt gratitude.  

Photos by Kevin Smith and courtesy of Bill Michie.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric permalink
    August 13, 2018 7:47 pm

    Well said, Bill!! It truly was another trip of a lifetime!!

  2. Rick permalink
    August 29, 2018 4:53 pm

    Oh my, what a grand time and blossoming of thoughts

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