The Climb For Friends of Kids With Cancer

Being a business owner is about more than bottom lines, it’s also about giving back. I was taught this years ago and I try to improve on it every year.

This year I chose to put all my efforts behind an incredible organization, Friends of Kids with Cancer.  I wanted to do something really big, bigger than a marathon, bigger than a bike race, bigger than anything I had done before.  So I went way outside the box and decided I would climb a mountain.

This idea was so wrong for so many reasons.

For starters, I am TERRIFIED of heights.  I also had ZERO climbing experience and didn’t know the first thing about mountaineering.

To make it even worse, I decided to climb one of the tallest mountains in the United States, Mt Rainier. I mean why not… If I’m going to try and raise $1 per foot, might as well make it one of the tallest, right?Mount Rainier

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mt. Rainier let me give you a few fun facts…

It is 14,410 feet to the summit.

It is an active volcano.

It is covered in sharp gigantic glaciers.

It is located far, far away in Washington, outside of Seattle.

And as if that’s not enough… It’s also one of the toughest mountains in the country to summit.

Friends of Kids With Cancer LogoSo there it was… I would climb Mt. Rainier to raise $1 per foot for Friends of Kids with Cancer.

Here is the story…

Once I decided I would climb Mt Rainier I knew I would need some help.  After reading several reviews and doing tons of research, I partnered up with a great guide service called IMG. They looked very professional and their guides were well trained.

Next, I wanted to build a team to go up the mountain with me.  I sent out an email inviting everyone in the office to make the climb, to a deafening silence.  I even went desk to desk, making sure everyone had gotten the email, but there were no takers.  Then about a week later our Director of Marketing, Ms. April McCoy stepped into my office and asked if I thought she could do it.  I didn’t even reply to her, and instead proceeded to sign her up. So there we were… We had a team of two.

We got the green light from Friends of Kids with Cancer, built the donation site and booked our trips. I stepped up my daily workout routine and started running several miles every morning.  I read a few blogs, purchased some of the fanciest gear I could find, and thought I was ready to go.

The Climb…

Climbing Mt. RainierMt. Rainier Hiking TrailWe flew to Portland, OR on Wednesday August 5th, rented a car and made the 2 hour back road drive to IMG Headquarters. We had a four hour orientation that afternoon which included; an equipment check, a power point presentation about the climb and a chance to meet the guides and our fellow climbers.  It was starting to become evident that this was a REAL mountain that I was climbing and it was going to be very dangerous. 

That night April and I ate a huge homemade dinner at Copper Creek, the local hot spot, and rented cabins. (There isn’t a hotel within 20 miles)

Thursday morning we woke up at sunrise, had a huge breakfast and met the team at HQ.  We loaded up the van and made the 30 minute drive to Mount Rainier State park. They dropped us off at the Paradise Visitor Center (Elevation 5400 ft) and we said goodbye civilization as we started our climb.

The first few miles we spent walking on the Skyline Trails to Myrtle Falls with our 50 lbs backpacks strapped on.  After an hour or so we were on the snow fields heading up to Camp Muir.

Top Of Mt. Rainier

The snow fields are steep and they just keep going, going and going. Mt. Rainier PeakWe would stop about every hour to eat, drink put on sunblock and add layers of clothing.  This is a tough climb and you are gaining a lot of elevation. (One of our fellow climbers turned around on the snow fields.)

We reached Camp Muir (Elevation 10,188)Mt. Rainier Base Camp around 5pm and got settled to the IMG Shelter.  The shelter is no more than a wooden shack with wood bunks for sleeping. Base Camp #2 No heat, no nothing, just a place to sleep protected from the elements. That night the guides made us an incredible dinner (Burritos!) in their tent and we sat around like zombies thinking about the day we had and the day ahead of us.

The next morning before sunrise we were woken by a lot of commotion outside our door.  During the night a climber had been hit by a falling rock and suffered a compound fracture to his leg.  They were planning a helicopter rescue and we needed to get out of the area.

What a great way to start day two!

We quickly packed our bags and headed over to the guides tent for breakfast and a few hours of glacier climbing training. (Basically how not to die on a glacier.)  After training we suited up and started our way across Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap on our way to the Ingraham Glacier.

Ryan Kelley On The Mountain

Rock Outcropping




Mt. Rainier Peak

We reached Ingraham Glacier (Elevation 11,138) around 3:30 and got settled in to camp.  We stayed in small yellow tents on the glaciers edge and to be honest… It was the most beautiful place on earth.  After getting settled in we all got together for an early dinner and a meeting about reaching the summit.Base Camp #4

Conditions looked clear at the top, but it was going to be cold.  Ice cold! Our plan was to be in bed by 5:30 pm awake at 9:30 pm and leave camp for the summit by 10pm.  If the weather held off we should hit the summit by sunrise.  The only problem… There is no way I was going to be able to fall asleep at 5:30 pm!  And I didn’t.

9:30 came before you knew it and I had only slept about 15 minutes.  I got my gear on, packed my backpack and headed to the guide tent for a bowl of oatmeal and coffee. I knew right then that this was going to be extremely difficult.  I had only slept a few hours over the last three days, this was my first time at this altitude and it was freezing cold.

Night Climb With Head LampsWe were out the door by 10 pm, lights on our helmets, ice axes in hand, backpacks loaded up and crampons secured to our feet.  We first headed across the Ingraham Flat glazier, then up one of the most difficult parts of the mountain, Disappointment Cleaver.  The DC is rocky (not ice) and you are heading almost strait up for over an hour.  One wrong step and you could fall hundreds of feet down to the bottom. We reached the top of DC around 11:45 and that’s when the fatigue really stated to set in. This was our first break since leaving camp.  My guide asked me how I was holding up.  He knew that I was really feeling pain and that I was starting to freak out. (Did I mention that I am absolutely terrified of heights?) I told him I was cool and ready to push on.

The next hour and a half stretch was probably the most dangerous of the entire mountain. We would be traveling on 12 inch wide paths on the top of glaziers with 100 foot sheer drop off on either side.  We were crossing a large, steep bottomless crevasse on metal extension ladders. We were climbing up ice walls using ropes with 250 foot drop offs.  Did I mention that by now we were about 13,000 feet up, very low oxygen and frozen sleet was building up on my face?

Somehow I made it through all that and to the second break area. I knew damn well that it was time for me to throw in the towel, but against my guide’s recommendation made the decision to push on.

The next hour and a half was spent crisscrossing through a very high altitude, very steep ice field. It was becoming very difficult for me to walk and I was delirious. I was dry heaving and felt like I was about to faint.  I pushed through and made it to our final break area at 13,500 feet.  Even though the hardest part of the climb was behind me, I knew I could not go any further.  I was only 900 feet away from the summit, but if I would have taken one more step up that mountain they would have been airlifting me off.  I was done!

My team agreed that I had given it all that I had and it was time for me to start heading back down.  I was not just putting myself in danger, but also those that I was tied to. They finished the additional 900 feet without me and summited right at sunrise as planned.  They took the picture with our flag at the top and started back down the mountain. (That’s right… You have to go all the way back down)

Coming down that mountain proved to be even harder than going up.  For starters the sun is coming up and you can now see all the crazy stuff you have just done.  You are also putting a lot of stain on your knees and back trying not to fall forward off a cliff. I was delirious and at points didn’t think I could do it. But I did. Sunrise On Mt. Rainier

I got back down to our camp at Ingraham Glacier around 9am and I was a mess.  I was sweating profusely but shivering and the same time. I was emotional and barely held it together.  I rested for about 20 minutes, ate a lot of food, drank some coffee and we started down the rest of the mountain. (Remember…  Ingraham Glacier is still at 11,100 feet)Breakfast Is Served

This was by far the most difficult task I have ever done, but it has made me a stronger person.

But even more important than all that… It was for the kids!

Our goal is to raise $14,410 and to bring a lot of awareness to an incredible origination, “Friends of Kids with Cancer”. We will hit that goal and hopefully pass it up.  We dedicated the climb to Jamie Woodruff.  She was a young lady who lost her battle to cancer, but utilized the Friends of Kids with Cancer services.

Like I said in the first sentence of this blog… being a business owner is about more than bottom lines, it’s also about giving back. My mentor John Gatewood taught me this years ago and I try to live by it.  I know that I have been fortunate in life and it’s my responsibility to give back.

And the big question on everyone’s mind… What will we do next year? Sail across the ocean? Bike across the mountains? Swim the Panama Canal? Not sure yet, but I promise you this… We will do something even bigger than Rainier and we will raise more money for another great origination.

Thank you for reading!Top of the Mountain

Ryan Kelley and April McCoy

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