The Juniper Fund
The Juniper Fund is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports and empowers families and communities impacted by the loss of Himalayan high-altitude workers. In 2014, Melissa Arnot and David Morton, two accomplished mountaineers with impressive summits in the Himalayas and beyond, were guiding on Mt. Rainier as a way to raise money for their non-profit. Anyone participating in these climbs would have direct access to them and other esteemed guides helping with the climb and would be able to pick their brains about all things mountaineering throughout the climb. From someone who understands the value of being able to learn from the best, the opportunity is worth the cost for participation. And, because you know you are helping a good cause and literally contributing to the support of a Nepalese family, you can feel good about your contribution and the people behind the cause. If this resonates with you, consider donating.
As someone who values giving back to my communities, I personally wouldn’t have attempted this climb any other way. If it weren’t for my friend winning an auction bid on the climb 3 years ago, I may not have ever tried this mountain, again. Mountaineering has never been high on my list because I’ve been so focused on rock climbing. However, over the years, I’ve been exposed to more and more mountain climbing that I have a fondness, curiosity, and lately a desire to achieve more.
Back in 2014, I went up on that Mt. Rainier Fundraising climb hoping to make a summit attempt but got a bad blister on my foot and decided not to continue. It was my fault for not catching the hot spot soon enough and in that ascent, I was a tag along…I hadn’t done the fundraising to deserve to be guided up the mountain but hoped I would be able to support my boyfriend at the time in his photography efforts for the Fund by going along. Sadly, I had to stay back and miss out on that opportunity but I did manage to come back and try again, this time, as part of the team. With the experience I had gained since that original attempt, I had a lot more questions for the guides. I was probably a bit too inquisitive, honestly, but I was nervous and I wanted to make sure the guides weren’t complacent (not that they would be, it’s just my anxiety needing to be reassured). Everything was fine and I learned a lot (thank you, guides, for being so patient and informative with me!). Hopefully I can impart some things I learned in Part III of my post.
What’s cool about the Juniper Fund is that Dave and Melissa keep a pulse on what’s needed to evolve the fund and aren’t just giving money to families. They are actually investing in training widows, educating children, and helping people start businesses as a way for families who’ve lost their income to create a new means for themselves…one that will be sustainable after the Juniper Funds run out. I love this model of “teaching people how to fish” and encourage everyone out there reading this to consider donating to assist them in continuing these efforts. Just browse their website to get a quick glance of the impact they are having. Your dollars are not getting lost in administrative costs. Check it out (from their website):
The guides for the 2021 Mt. Rainier expedition were Dave Morton (lead), Todd Passey, and Sid Pattison. All very experienced Himalayan guides, and probably hundreds of Rainier summits between all of them. Sid, alone, used to be an RMI guide on the mountain for 10 years. How many summits can you have guiding on the mountain over that period? I was on Sid’s rope team and he really helped me when I was struggling at times on the mountain by keeping me engaged in conversation (nice trick there, Sid!). And it worked because I’d forget about the fatigue and struggle and find myself further up the mountain than I thought. He also had some insights into grief and the internal emotional and mental struggle I was having with that. The net outcome was that I learned a lot more about Sid during that time than I did about the other guides. One side note on him was that not 2 weeks prior to guiding us up Mt. Rainier, Sid had just successfully summited Mt. Everest. I was super impressed with that achievement and his willingness to go up this Mountain with us before he had quite fully recovered. (Where’s my props emoji!)
All of our guides were friendly, knowledgeable, approachable, and supportive. It didn’t matter if someone was breaking down, sick from altitude, generally panicking about whatever, anxious about the climb, over zealous about getting up or down the mountain, or just plain enthusiastic. Each one of them brought their A-game: positive attitudes and a willingness to help each one of us no matter what state we were in. A huge thank you to their patience, encouragement, and support. We couldn’t have achieved the summit and gotten back in as good a shape as we did, without you!
Day 1 – Check-in and Gear Check
Day 1 of participating in the climb was to arrive Saturday night and check-in. This evening was critical to 1) making sure everyone arrived and was accounted for and 2) make sure everyone brought the necessary gear needed for the mountain and if not, give them time to get it if it couldn’t be rented or wasn’t brought by the staff.
Day 2 – Snow School
Due to Covid and precautions taken thereof, snow school was to take place just above Paradise. Usually, this would take place at Camp Muir. Because there was still snow at the lower elevations above Paradise, it was an easy way for us to learn some snow skills and then head back to Whittaker Basecamp for the night. This way, we get a good night’s sleep before heading out early the next morning for Camp Muir followed by the summit attempt later that night.
Snow School is a great way to learn the basics of mountaineering. Conditions were looking pretty favorable so we didn’t get into any crevasse rescue or other more technical scenarios. For the most part, we learned the basics of how to walk and conserve energy, how to walk on steep slopes (with or without crampons), pressure breathing to get the most oxygen you can out of the high pressure zones, how to self arrest and prevent yourself from sliding down the mountain in the event of a slip, how to maneuver in a rope team, and how to use your ice axe. All invaluable lessons, though some are harder to execute even after practicing as evidenced by the guides repeated insistence I try to use “mountain walking” to help with fatigue.
All of the guides are there to help keep everyone safe and gratefully they handle many of the logistics like when to adjust rope lengths and when to let it out, including attaching the rope to us (verifying we are secure) and etc. If someone actually needed crevasse rescuing, there were enough guides to assist and direct that I don’t think it would have been an issue. In fact, Dave’s description of silently falling into a crevasse and self rescuing without anyone on the rope team noticing made it seem like it wasn’t so bad and might actually be a bit fun to experience.
My questions around water bladders vs. water bottles (must have a water bottle!), avalanche potential, crevasses, timing, food intake, restroom breaks, breaks in general, pacing, crowds, sleeping arrangements, etc. will all be covered in part III of this blog post. All I have to say to conclude this post is that with the warmer weather, the lower mountain needs were minimal so I was able to trim back some weight and carry about 30# as opposed to the 35 to 40 that was estimated. Boy was I happy with that!! And after the climb, I can say that I took too much food but otherwise had exactly what I needed and used. I wonder if I can repeat that feat if I ever try to do this again (different route).