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By Lynn Porter
Mercer Island firefighter Trever Kissel is thrilled to have summited the highest peak on the continent this summer.
Yet, what he left behind moved him even more.
On June 5, Kissel buried deep in the 20,320-foot summit of Alaska's Mount Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) a photo of Jon Cahill and his family. The Auburn fire captain died on Mount Rainier in June last year. Cahill, 40, fell 200 feet on Liberty Ridge, about 11,300 feet up the 14,410-foot peak.
Cahill had planned on attempting Denali this year.
``That was one of the mountains he didn't get to climb,'' said Kissel, who dedicated his climb to the fallen firefighter. ``I was just able to do it for him.''
Along with the photo, Kissel brought with him a bronze commemorative coin the Auburn Fire Department had commissioned in Cahill's honor and a photo of Cahill superimposed over Mount Rainier. The photo had all four of his children's names on it and the names of his closest friends, Mark Anderson, Cahill's climbing partner when he died, and Tony Lanier. It was signed by his wife.
``It was very emotional. I actually cried before I reached the summit,'' said Kissel, 31, whose tears froze inside his goggles. ``It meant a lot to me, but also to his family.''
Kissel made the climb as part of Fire on the Mountain, a subgroup of Cops on Top in which police officers climb in memory of fallen law enforcement officers. Fire members climb to honor fallen firefighters. The rest of Kissel's team was made up of a Bellevue firefighter and a high school friend.
Kissel also buried at Denali's summit a photo of Aaron Koester, 21, a volunteer firefighter from Monroe who died in an avalanche while climbing Mount Rainier last year.
Kissel had tried to make the summit of Mount Rainier in Cahill's honor on Sept. 11, 2004, as part of a police and firefighter tribute to fallen heroes, he said. He was unable to reach the top because of bad weather.
``I was pretty bummed out that I didn't summit,'' he said.
This was Kissel's second attempt at Mount Denali. In 2002, he made it to 16,400 feet before lousy weather forced him to turn around.
This time it was a clear day with almost no wind when the team headed toward the top of the mountain. It made it there at 9 p.m. after starting out in the morning. The team usually climbed at night when the temperature averaged in the negative 20s because the cold makes the snow more solid and climbers less likely to fall through snow bridges: a layer of snow that covers the top of a crevasse.
The three were independents -- or ``indies'' as they are called by park rangers -- because, as experienced climbers, they did not need a guide.
Cahill's wife Debbie, 36, of Orting said climbing was a large part of her husband's life.
``Climbing was important to him before I met him, and that's part of what attracted me to him -- his sense of adventure,'' she said. ``... I think he was just drawn to God's amazing creation and the nature -- just the challenge of it.''
Debbie Cahill said Kissel's feat is amazing.
``I feel very honored that he would do such a thing, and very honored that he would honor Jon in such a way,'' she said.