Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happy New Year and thank you for your generous support of Climb For Hope. In just a couple of years Andrew Buerger's vision of using mountaineering expeditions to raise awareness and desperately needed funds for Breast Cancer research has become a reality. Your generosity and that of hundreds of others has helped CFH raise over a half a million dollars. Our nation's financial situation has resulted in an even tighter competition for grant dollars. Dr Leisha Emen's immuno-based therapy study has benefited greatly from your donations. You are ensuring her research continues to move forward.

Michelle Timmerman is currently down in Ecuador in an effort to summit the highest active volcano in the world, Mt. Cotopaxi. Michelle and I were initially hoping to go together, but we started our fundraising a little late and only one of us was able to go. I was fortunate to make it to the summit of Cotopaxi in 2007 and this opportunity definitely belonged to Michelle. So, I figured I'd give you a "Michelle Update"…

First, the team. Michelle is a part of a seven person team, including two professional guides from Earth Treks. She emailed me an update from Quito, so I figured I'd share a little about them in her own words:

"Ross is living the dream, having the time of his life and riding high! He has always dreamed of going on this expedition, it started over 15 years ago. He is a family man and misses them very much but he is so happy to have the opportunity to be here. He is a character and is always breaking out some crazy stories either about his family or friends. His sister in law passed away Jan. 12 of 08 from breast cancer and he was committed that day to trying to help in some way in the hopes of finding a cure for breast cancer. He signed up for CFH the very next day."

"Travis is a great guy with a big smile! He is so thrilled to be a part of the CFH team. He has been hiking/mountaineering for over 25 years and has been waiting for this opportunity to climb a high peak, let alone be able to contribute to raising money to help fight breast cancer. When he isn't climbing peaks in his back yard (like the Adirondacks) he is travelling the world. His latest international adventure took him to New Zealand. He shared with the team that he realizes that this journey to Cotopaxi is not about him but of the many women who are fighting for their life against the disease of breast cancer."

"Patrick is a hoot, I think he has a chance at stand-up comedy. But aside from the fact that he is super funny he is 100% committed to CFH. He is a beginner when it comes to hiking let alone mountaineering and he is fearless. He is has two summits under his belt (since he's been in Ecuador) and is looking strong. He shared with the team that he was in a place in his life where he was doing some soul searching when he found Climb for Hope. He said it was an easy decision for him to commit to the goal of fundraising. Hence, his journey began. He was amazed at the outpouring of support that he received and is very grateful for his family and friends for helping him reach his fundraising goal."

"Hari is a sincere, good guy. He has a great sense of humor and sweet disposition. Both him and Patrick are roommates and go to grad school together. He too is a beginner hiker and until this week has never summited a mountain, let alone two over 12,000 ft. He shared with the team that he did not know how breast cancer had touch his family and friends until he joined CFH. He was shocked at how close the disease hit home. He created a secure foundation of family and friends that helped to propel him to his fundraising goal and gladly admits he would not be in Ecuador without their love and support."

The guides:

Nelson, has guided mountaineering expeditions in Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Tanzania, Russia and throughout the U.S. He has summited Ama Dablam and Cho Oyu and has been on expeditions to Nanga Parbat. He also spent time working as an instructor for Colorado's Outward Bound Schools, a part time gig in the Grand Canyon as a backcountry ranger, and a river guide on the Snake River in Jackson, WY. Though he probably doesn't remember it, he was my instructor at a class at Earth Treks back in 2001.

Dan began his climbing career in 1978 and since then has ventured into the mountains of five continents with ascents in countries including Pakistan, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Russia, Tanzania, India and Nepal (and Denali in Alaska). I climbed with Dan on the first CFH expedition to Ecuador where he was nicknamed "Lt. Dan" for his intensity during our climb of Cotopaxi. As serious as Dan may be when the team ropes-up to one another, he is equally (if not more) warm and well humored off the mountain. It is a constant relief to know that Michelle and the team are in Dan and Nelsons capable hands.

Acclimatizing: The team arrived in Quito last Saturday. Actually, Michelle and Ross had to land in Panama City twice for mechanical repairs on their way to Quito from Houston, so they really arrived on Sunday. Since Quito is at 10,000 feet of elevation, the process of acclimatizing began with their arrival. Since then, the team has successfully summited two peaks: Pasochoa (Monday) and Pichincha (Tuesday).

Pasochoa is an extinct volcano only 20 miles from Quito and makes for a great acclimatization climb. On their way to the summit at 13,776 feet, the team walked through a herd of bulls and their last 600 feet of climbing was completely vertical where they used both hands and feet to make their way. You'll find some pictures here:

Pichincha is a stratovolcano and the highest mountain in the range that immediately surrounds the city of Quito. While it may not be a "technical" climb, at 15,700 feet climbers must truly earn this summit. It is a full day. Michelle and Dan reported that all climbers looked strong and they summited and descended in a very short period of time. Though tired, the team felt strong upon their return to the hotel. This is great news and a sign that each individual on the team has trained and prepare well. Here's a great picture of Pichincha:

The Things They'll Carry: The team will spend the remainder of today getting prepared for Cotopaxi. They'll review their gear lists, try on their double plastic boots and fit their crampons. The process of packing for a climb is one that involves "loops." Tonight, they'll be in their rooms, spreading out their gear on their beds and their floors. They'll pack their bag, then unpacking their bag, looking for anything they can leave behind to reduce the weight and pack it again. Maybe they'll forget if they packed something they needed for the hike to the hut and they'll unpack and pack again. When they're finally done packing, they'll try to get some sleep for their early start to Cotopaxi tomorrow morning.

I'll be sending another update to everyone on Friday (1/9/09) when the team has made it to base camp. Michelle has an Iridium satellite phone that was generously loaned by our friend Herb Wilkins. At that time, I'll be able to give you an update on the mountains conditions and another report on how the team is doing with their acclimatization. The last update will come Saturday or Sunday (10th or 11th), once everyone is down the mountain and safely back in Quito.

Monday, October 13, 2008

CFH - Mt. Adams

Our latest expedition... our newest team of 12 returned from a successful summit of Mt. Adams in August. The climb was not as mild as anticipated; 100+ degree temperatures and 45-60 pound packs on all the adults, melting and re-freezing snow conditions on the glaciers, and the last-minute change from a guided to unguided climb all added challenges for our team. It was an incredibly fit team of people and everyone was remarkably strong and able on the mountain.

Some of our views were just as breathtaking as those I've encountered on the international climbs. After struggling up steep terrain to 9,000 feet, carrying our entire camp (and about 10 pounds too much apple pie homemade by our gear outfitter's wife in cumbersome giant tupperwares), we were rewarded with a spectacular site to make base camp for the next few nights: we were perched atop an isolated rock outcropping which required a 30-foot hand-over-foot climb to find several flat spots to pitch tents. From here, we had a view of our route up to the false summit north of us; fiery sunsets to the east over Mount St. Helens; Mt. Hood and an actual forest fire to our south, and a full moon rising over the ridge to our east each night. Each new pot of water we needed to boil or filter meant a scramble back down the rock wall to a glacial melt pool, and careful climbing back up with full, heavy buckets so as not to slosh our hard-earned supply right back out.

As we set out at sunrise for the summit, the familiar crunch of crampons in snow and ice was oddly heartwarming as I recalled moments on Cotopaxi for the first Climb for Hope. It was a mix of chunky snow fields and crumbling rock and scree sections on the ascent (with every step up, you lose about half that step in a downward slide), and again the sweltering sun and heat (over 100 again) was contradictory to the senses. Once at the false summit, we had about 800 feet to go and this is where the views and the terrain of the mountain itself filled me with wonder and reminded me of what I love so much about being on a mountain... these sights (over cornices, into glaciers and crevasses, down sheer rock walls) are hidden from below, and I always feel lucky to lay my eyes on them. Looking behind, to where we had come from and the vast expanse of earth beyond, captures the breath.

I slowed and hesitated on the steep last stretch to the summit... my brother was behind taking photographs, but I had an unexplainable intuition that we should all step to the top together and especially not without him in the midst of the pack. As we stood up there together, we were amazed... despite the strong gusting winds and the altitude, hundreds of butterflies swirled around us like a protective and joy-filled presence. As we moved across the summit fields, we kept walking into more swarms of the brightly colored butterflies and they were with us a good distance on our descent as well. I was honored to be standing on this summit with my brother, all of his kids, Dr. Emens and very dear friends.

We were back to camp for another glorious sunset, and the next morning made our final difficult descent to the trailhead by early afternoon. Thank you to all for the many ways you have been a part of this very special effort.


Monday, July 28, 2008


Breast cancer survivor hikes Mount Kilimanjaro

Times Staff Writer
Gettysburg Times
Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008 6:43 AM EDT

Full Article here...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mt. Rainier Trip Report:

Unfortunately no cell phone service at all on or around the mountain, so we could not send any messages to the blog. Back home after a very memorable experience on Rainier. We had perfect weather, beautiful sunny days and clear nights with a big moon. After getting a bit of a late start friday, we set up a low camp at ~9k ft, on a rocky shelf with magnificent views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. Everybody was feeling pretty good, save for some sore backs (me), hips and one very sore ankle that Eric K. was fighting through. He had sprained it recently and was just going to see how it felt day-to-day. I'm not sure if Eric's buddy Jeff even broke a sweat or was breathing heavy on the climb up.

Sat morning we broke camp and hoofed it another 1000 ft. up to Camp Muir at 10,080 ft, and took a rest break. This is the usual base camp area for many teams, as well as the base for the guided services like RMI. Eric K had done yeoman's work getting to this point on a weakened ankle, but it wasn't prudent to go any further on it. From here the slopes got steeper with loose rock and scree, and coming down it would have been impossible without strong ankles. So he made the wise decision to head back down, and Jeff, who sumitted Rainier once before, decided to accompany him to the bottom so they could spend some time in Seattle.

From here, Eric Tirnauer, Joe and I roped up, strapped on the crampons and went another 1k ft., across the Cowlitz Galcier, over the steep rock and scree of Cathedral Gap and up to Ingraham Flats to set up a high camp at ~11k ft. After the long stop at Muir, we were lucky to nab the last tent site without having to dig one out. At this point, it was all about preparing for the summit bid - melting snow for drinking water, eating, sorting our gear, packing up our packs for the summit, and finally laying down about 6:00 pm to get some rest.

The plan was to wake up at midnight and be climbing by 12:30 or so to stay ahead of all the RMI groups starting from Camp Muir. Ah, the best laid plans....Faintly I hear footsteps on the trail of climbers moving past our camp and jolt upright. Shit, it's 1:30! We couldn't hear the alarm, my wrist buried in my sleeping bag, and when I realized what time it was, I rousted Big E. At this point, there was a brief discussion amongst the 3 of us on whether we wanted to go for it or not, with two "for" climbing and one "against". As is normal, the very short night, and lack of sleep was creating some doubt and apprehension. The "against" was prodded to at least give it a try and see how the energy level felt after eating and drinking and getting moving. So it was up and out of the tent, dressed, harnesses on, boots, gaitors, crampons, helmet, headlamp, ice axe, and ready to go. The packs were barely noticeable with nothing but our down jackets, balaclava, over-mittens, and extra water...maybe 15-20 lbs compared to the 50+ we carried up to that point.

The climb to the summit was extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. Fortunately, we had near-perfect climbing conditions - not too cold, not too warm...clear skies, bright moon, no wind. The first objective was to gain the 'Disappointment Cleaver", aptly named for the many who turn back from there. Its' steep, mixed rock/scree and snow, make it very intimidating. We took our first, well-earned 5-minute break at the top of the Cleaver at ~12k ft., on a flat, rocky ledge, and were treated to a beautiful sunrise from this awesome vantage point. We were all feeling pretty good at this point, and decided to make the push for the summit. This was a long, 3 hour slog up numerous switchbacks with some pretty steep sections at times. By this time, the sun was up and it was clear, so we had great views , and could see the terrain in front of us easily. The "trail" up the glacier was usually about 1 -2 feet wide, with occasional obstacles, but for the most part it was straight-forward climbing, one foot in front of the other, rest-step, plant the ice axe, breath, repeat.

We made the crater rim right around 8:00 am, through a little notch in the snow bank they call the "gate". We sat down in the crater for a couple mins, took off our packs, and walked 10-15 mins across the crater and up to "Columbia Crest", the true summit at 14, 410 feet, the second highest in the lower 48. I felt all sorts of emotions - ecstatic, grateful, lucky, tired, relieved, and proud probably sum it up best. I thought it was very cool to have been able to do that with one of my best friends (who had never climbed before), and a really funny, great guy who had alot of experience and agreed to lead us on the mountain. Eric Tirnauer was not only a great climbing leader and motivator, he was also a lot of fun.

Coming down we had to take it a little slow, as the snow was getting soft and slushy as the sun heated it up. We had 9 miles and 9000 vertical feet to descend. We made it to Ingraham Flats around 11:45 am, leaving the summit around 9. We packed up our camp, shouldered our heavy packs, roped up again, crossed over Cathedral Gap and down the scree slope, stopping next at Camp Muir for a brief rest before the long hike down the Muir Snowfield to the Paradise Visitor Center. On the snowfield we were able to glissade a number of times, getting up some good speed as we slid down the steeper sections on our butts, controlling our speed with our poles or ice axe. It never got old. Finally hit the parking lot ~6:00 pm, but Big E had been there since 5ish waiting for us, since he was able to descend alot faster than we. Funny how gravity works that way.

This was a truly special alpine adventure, and would highly recommend this climb to anyone who hasn't done it. Mt. Rainier is an extraordinary national park and absolutely beautiful glaciated volcano that provides the feel of a true mountaineering experience.

P.S. Good luck to the Climb For Hope 2.3 team on Mt. Adams, which we could clearly see the entire time. Also looks like a fantastic mountain. Climb on!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

For those of you out there following this blog, a small group of CFH members will be attempting to climb Mt. Rainier July 18-20. The team is: Eric Tirnauer, Eric Kronthal and Jon Guth from the CFH 1.0 Cotopaxi expedition in January 2007, along with Joe Millman and Jeff Fagnan. We will attempt Rainier via the Muir Snowfield - Dissappointment Cleaver route, and try to send some posts via email/cell phone to this blog from the mountain, depending on cell coverage.
Hopefully we will get a good weather window!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dispatch 3 from Andy Buerger on Mt. Kilimanjaro, CFH Trip 2:
(Via Jen Buerger)
Andy called at 5:14 am this morning happily reporting that everyone made it to the summit AND is safely down at camp for the night. He said it was an extremely long and exhausting day which ended with great emotional rewards for everyone.

SO amazing!
P & L,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dispatch 2 from Andy Buerger on Mt. Kilimanjaro, CFH Trip 2:

Jen Buerger spoke w/ Andy again this morning - about 8:30am our time. They are having a light pasta dinner then heading off to bed early. Everyone continues to be strong and is expected to make the summit push starting around 11:30pm (their time) tonight. Spirits are high, but a few stomachs are being affected by altitude or bug. She'll be in touch again as soon as she hears anything more.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dispatch 1 from Andy Buerger on Mt. Kilimanjaro, CFH Trip 2:

Andy says it is extremely beautiful. The past days the weather has been warm and great to trek in. Today (day 4 of the actual climb) they are having a much needed rest day and getting prepared for the last 2 days of the climb. They camped at 12,800 ft. (I think). Everyone is strong and doing great. A few blisters -- to report. He says the group is tremendous and jelling.

That's all for now.

Monday, June 09, 2008

CFH Group 1 on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Day 5
June 9, 2008

Habari! We have arrived safely at Karanga camp, 13,200 feet. The climb and the scenery have been spectacular. Day one had us ascend from 6000 ft. to 1000 feet. We spent most of the day in damp rainforest (think Gorillas in the Mist), arriving seven and a half hours later at Machame camp. Day two we headed above the tree line and into the billowy white clouds that blanketed the horizon for a hundred and eighty degrees around us, arriving at Shira camp at 12,800 feet. Day Three had us set out on the steady, stony route to 15000 feet to the stony lava tower, and then down the Umbwe route to the Barranco camp at 13000 feet, where we arrived after the nine hour day, and then rested through day four.

Every day we set out with the clouds sitting below us, and as the day warms, the pressure differential causes the clouds to rise and catch us in a cold mist as they pass us, waiting for us to climb above them again.

Today we scrambled and switched back over the craggy Barranco wall crossing streams, hand over hand climbing (sometimes at 80 degree angles), and then down and up again, traversing west on the southern side of the mountain to the Karanga camp site. Our camp site is now set in the sunny afternoon below the magnificent snow-covered mountain standing sentinel over the coming evening. Everyone is doing well and the pace has been steady. Tomorrow we’ll set out for the four hour hike to Barafu high camp (15000+ ft), rest all day, and then set out at midnight to trek the last 4000 snow –covered feet to the summit.

Love to all, and Asante Asana!


Thursday, June 05, 2008

5:30 am Wed 6/4

Habari! All's well in AFRICA! I snuck into the hotel office to send you a quick email. Yesterday we caught a glimpse of Kilimanjero across the plains as the clouds parted - it is HUMUNGOUS (sp?) No mountain in the world stands more out of the ground and it is an awesome sight to behold. We set off at 7 am to begin the journey. Chris and Austin have us prepped and Carol, Annie, Liz, Mike, Owen, Beth are all chomp'n at the bit - I think we have more cameras than porters ... Mike has offered to tatoo or pierce any of us anywhere...making sure he hikes ahead of me...An honor to be with 3 cancer survivors on this journey - their experiences have already movd us and will no doubt inspire the path ahad.. Internet and phone might be spotty but we'll try to get back in touch soon. Kwaheri for now and asante sana for all of your support!