Mercer Island fathers, sons climb Mt. Baker fundraising for research

Standing at 10,781 feet, at the summit of Mount Baker, Sam Peterson and his father, Charlie, had reached their goal. Upon getting back down the mountain, the duo realized they’d far surpassed their second goal of the trip — fundraising.

Six Mercer Island residents

Six Mercer Island residents

Standing at 10,781 feet, at the summit of Mount Baker, Sam Peterson and his father, Charlie, had reached their goal. Upon getting back down the mountain, the duo realized they’d far surpassed their second goal of the trip — fundraising.

As an active family, it only made sense to the Petersons when they started brainstorming for soon-to-be senior Sam’s culminating project that they climb a mountain. The Islanders, along with two other father-son teams, successfully climbed Mount Baker in early August.

“The reason we chose the climb, we’d been thinking about doing some sort of silent auction, and other ideas, but we wanted to do the climb because it felt unique,” said Sam Peterson. “I’ve been begging my dad for a long time to climb Mt. Rainier. When my dad was 15, he went with my grandpa and their church group, so he wanted me to have the same experience. Unfortunately, Mt. Rainier books up really fast, so when we were looking at trips, Mt. Baker was the only one. It isn’t bad because it’s still 10,700 feet, and it’s a considerable distance.”

As part of his culminating project, Peterson wanted to fundraise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Northwest Chapter, an organization that both he and his dad had personal experience with. Both have ulcerative colitis, and Sam had his lower colon removed several years ago after a long battle with the disease. The CCFA raises money and awareness for both diseases. Once the father and son chose the climb, they asked family friends Steve and Jake Stenberg, and Arthur and David McCray to join them. Arthur McCray and Jake Stenberg are longtime friends of Peterson’s.

In getting the pieces together for the climb, the Petersons met with Kelsi Messling, at the CCFA Northwest chapter, to learn how to set up the fundraiser, which turned out to be much easier than Peterson thought. The families sent out email blasts, sharing their story about the climb, and efforts to raise money.

Peterson said the next step for the group was training. Though not as daunting of a mission as climbing Mt. Rainier, climbing Mt. Baker still requires climbers to be in good shape and able to carry packs up to 60 pounds.

“I ended up climbing Mt. Si a couple of times and doing a lot of running because I already do cross country at the high school, so I was already training for that. It’s a little different than Mt. Rainier because you don’t have to be worried about altitude sickness so much because you get that at 11,000 feet. We also weren’t going to be at freezing level, which is about 13,000 right now — essentially it’s a long hike in the snow. It’s nothing crazy when you think about ice climbing or scaling. It’s pretty simple. It’s a lot of training with getting heavier and heavier packs. We were going to have to carry about 60-pound packs, hauling the gear up to base camp,” said the teenager.

On Friday, Aug. 9, the team headed out for the Ranger Station in Sedro Woolley, where they met their guides and re-packed for the trip.

“The first thing you do is explode your pack, which means you take it all out and spread it out in the parking lot. You have to make sure you have all the right gear and that it’s the right size. You can’t have too much weight — the goal is to minimize as much as possible. Their sleeping bags roll up and are only about a pound or so. The goal is to have the least amount of mass as you can,” said Peterson.

The group caravanned with others on their way to the trailhead on the southern side of the mountain, which travels up the Easton Glacier route. The northern route has been closed off since earlier this year because of a flash flood, which washed out the access road. Once at the trailhead, the team set out on a relatively easy hike to base camp. The route crosses Rocky Creek, where Peterson slipped on a rock, slammed his foot into another rock and dislocated his toe. It seemed like his trip might be over before it began.

“I hobbled across the rest of the river, and my dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, takes off my shoe and sock and noticed that my toe doesn’t quite look right, and the top is bent at a 45-degree angle,” he said. “I’d like to say I didn’t cry and there wasn’t any yelling involved, but he managed to pop it back in after three tries. I thought there was no way I was going to make the rest of the hike, and I’d spent all this time raising the money.”

After the pause to fix his toe, and now wearing his glacier boots, which acted as a splint for his foot, Peterson and the group made it to base camp. That was when Mother Nature decided to remind the team who was in charge.

“We were settling in for the night; after what tasted like a fantastic dinner of macaroni and sausage, the clouds open up,” said Peterson. “I heard we had thunderstorms here that weekend, but it’s always more interesting when you’re up closer to the thunder and lightening. We weren’t at the highest point, so we weren’t worried about getting hit by lightning, but it’s so bright and so loud that it wakes you up. It sent bright orange glows through the tent, and it’s very loud.”

By the morning the storm had blow away, leaving behind sunshine just in time for the group to learn about safety on the mountain.

“We learned how to walk in glacier boots, with the ice axe and the crampons, and how to travel as a team on a rope,” he said. “The best part of learning about all this stuff was self-arresting, which is basically if you’re sliding down the mountain, you have to arrest yourself because otherwise you pull the whole team down and you’re in a crevasse and you’re done. We had a little slope where we practiced — it’s a lot of fun because it’s like a giant slip and slide. Being all 17-year-old guys, it was a lot of fun. Our dads’ shoulders and backs didn’t seem to like it — they went for the minimum and we did the maximum.”

Once again the sun during the day was followed by a massive round of thunderstorms, which this time threatened their attempt at the summit.

“It was bad because on summit day, you usually try to wake up around 3 a.m. because you want to get up and down the mountain before any crevasses get soft,” he said. At 7 a.m. the group finally talked with the guides, trying to figure out what to do. Though it was only raining, that presents problems if there are high winds at the top of the mountain, because of the risk of hypothermia. The guides told the group they would wait it out, hoping for a sustained break in the weather by 9 a.m., or they would have to cancel.

“At about 8 a.m. or so the sun started to come out. The guides got us suited up as fast as possible. You just want to get up the mountain,” he said. “We started hiking at about 8:30 a.m. and to our credit we were actually incredibly speedy and we made it up to the top in about four and a half hours. They had expected about six hours.”

“It’s interesting when you get up to the top. Mt. Baker is a volcano, so there is a crater at the top and a vent where [there is] this fantastic smelling sulfur gas, which is just terrible. It just does not smell good at all,” said Peterson. “It’s very hard to explain how good it feels to get to the top when you were sitting through a thunderstorm and it was nice to be able to summit and keep everyone safe. We really accomplished the mission, signed the register.”

Donations are still being taken, but so far the Petersons have raised just over $12,000. Initially, the goal was $5,000, realistically expecting around $2,500.

“It was easy to fundraise because most people already knew about what I’d been going through. It wasn’t overly difficult fundraising — I would determine the whole thing a success,” said Peterson.

Messling said the pair far exceeded the goal because of their willingness to share their story.

“Through sheer determination and commitment, they accomplished both and have raised over $13,000, which far exceeds their initial fundraising goals,” she said. “A large part of this success is due to their willingness to share their stories with friends and family and ask for support. Sam and Charlie have an incredible network of supporters, and that is really reflected in what they were able to accomplish.”

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