The Juniper Fund and Their Fundraising Climb on Mt. Rainier

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.

2014 Summit photo with Dave Morton. Photo by Luke Allen Humphrey

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.

2014 Summit push high on the mountain, around High Break. Photo by Luke Allen Humphrey

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):

https://www.thejuniperfund.org/our-work#the-need

Our Guides

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!)

Todd and Sid illustrating how to walk on the mountain in roped teams during Snow School, Day 2.

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.

The Juniper Fund Mt. Rainier Climbing team, with guides (Andy and Richie (brothers), Bryan, Scott, AnnaBeth (and husband Cole – did not climb), <the gap is me>, Kevin, Lhakpa, Ryan, Christine, David Morton, Todd Passey.
Gear check. Hint, bring too much and pare down if you need to. Thanks to Eddie Bauer and Leki, I had extras of fleece, thinsulate down liner jacket, gloves (desperately needed those!), and hiking poles…among other things.

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.

Dave Morton teaching us how to walk up steep slopes in crampons

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.

Taking a break on the way up to Camp Muir.

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).

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Mt. Rainier Trip Report – Mountain Conditions

Overview

This is part I of III parts describing my recent Mt. Rainier summit climb, my first up this mountain and the first of any mountain like it for me, though I’ve done Kilimanjaro and other alpine ascents. Part I talks about mountain conditions and will be most interesting for anyone curious about the condition of the mountain at the time of our ascent. The second part will talk about how we prepared and the Juniper Fund. Finally, my personal recount of all things related to preparing for this climb and the climb itself, including some humorous post-climb situations.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the climb.

Due to avalanche potential, teams skirted the Ingraham icefall and glacier and did the rocky exposed Disappointment Cleaver. Photo credit Pinterest

Part I: Mountain Conditions

After a stormy week with fresh snow and high winds on the upper mountain, conditions became avalanche prone and kept parties from attempting a summit until RMI teams successfully went up on June 17 (https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/expedition/sc_061721/desc). A steady stream of ascents followed that made the summit push for us easier because the path was well established with about 15 pickets up high (of which we used only 1 because the snow was that good) and a handline above High Crack. Due to the increasingly warm conditions, the mountain quickly opened up with several crevasses being monitored for passability. Freezing level dropped from 17,000 ft to 15,500 ft the night of our summit bid and temperatures remained above freezing though the wind picked up out of the SW at about a constant 20mph. All-in-all we had perfect snow conditions on the way up, no ice, no ladders, no planks, no open and worrisome crevasses, and no one in our party suffered too badly from altitude sickness meaning 100% of the team summitted. These most excellent conditions created a very direct, yet, steep approach to the summit.

June 22, 2021: Juniper Fund team ascending the mountain, high above Disappointment Cleaver

As of July 1, the route looks a lot different.

July 1, 2021: RMI teams descending the mountain. From the latest RMI blog post: https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/expedition/rainier_7_1_21/desc

From Paradise to Camp Muir I was surprised at how quickly the snow was melting and how much of the meadow path was starting to appear. Around Panorama Point through Pebble Creek there was very little to no snow. From the parking to Panorama Point and from Pebble Creek to Muir, we travelled on compact snow. There was no post holing as in the 3 weeks prior when I did my training hike to Muir. In fact, just 3 weeks prior there was no path visible, just very soft, wet snow that postholed and didn’t allow for glissading on the way down.

May 29, 2021: Making our way up to Camp Muir
June 22,, 2021: Juniper Fund making their way up to Camp Muir (compare how much snow is in each photo)
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Birthday Brief

Another detour on the way to Haungshan stories.

Not many people in the gym on a Sunday night.

Sunday was my birthday and from my last post, you know how important it is for me to acknowledge the day for myself–to do something that makes the day stand out from every other day. It started with cake with my team on Friday, lunch and board games on Saturday, and ended with climbing and dinner on Sunday.

Picking up on Sunday with no work alerts and nothing significant planned, I finally had the time to socialize with a few people online, take my time setting about my day, and simply relax. I did some much needed yoga and even took a nap (I’m trying hard to recover from this bronchial thing). The idea to visit the Suzhou Museum and the Suzhou Center was high on my list of things to do, but motivating to head out and still make my climbing plans later in the afternoon seemed like it was better just to hang back. While I did eventually venture out to the Suzhou Center (mall) just to get out of the house, I found the Center overwhelming and crowded, which really isn’t my scene. It was a relief to make it a short excursion because of the sensory overload from being in there!

Suzhou Center fish cutting
Suzhou Center fresh fish station.

Because I made the decision to go to the Suzhou Center so late in the day, it meant I would run late getting to the climbing gym. I took that hit as a forcing function to keep me from climbing too much. Again, having been sick for so long, I’m really trying to not overdo it so I can get better. When I arrived, my new friends had already been climbing for a bit. It wasn’t crowded and I felt good, best I’ve felt in weeks. I wanted to have some superficial goal, like 48 routes, or something and instead did as many climbs as I could until people appeared to be done. While I could easily have climbed another hour or more, I respected that I came late to my own gathering and therefore, should not hold everyone up.

After climbing, and true to their word, we all went for dinner. Even though we simply walked across the street to a restaurant arranged by none other than gym owner Liu Chang Zhong (or LCZ), I was blown away by the setting.

Restaurant
Birthday dinner. Sorry Milo, you are missing.

We had views of the lake towards Suzhou Center, and across to the Ferris Wheel and the very tall IFS building with the Church in MoonBay lit up just outside. We were in a private room with a round table, our own private bathroom (inside the room), waitstaff (inside the room), and both relaxing chairs and dining chairs complete with a television.

LCZ ordered Huang Jiu, which in my mind is still something to stay clear of. It hits slow and hard and therefore can be dangerous to drink. I’ve tried a different variation called Bei Jiu and will never try that again. It’s like moonshine or something. Yuck. Now you’ve been warned. Be wary of Chinese spirits. 🙂

Dinner was a fantastic number of dishes including local Suzhou crab, fish, shrimp, water lily, and more. The tea was delicious and the cake was incredible. The whole experience was more than I could have hoped for to have a wonderful birthday. And, it wasn’t just that they took me to dinner and we had great conversaton, it’s that they really put thought and time into making it significant for me. I was moved.

Mitten Crab
Suzhou Mitten Crab because they look like they are wearing mittens.

As has been my experience with every meal in a room like this, the food is bountiful and we could easily have had a few more guests to help us finish it. I also learned that like European restaurants, you are not pressured to leave the room. Dinner comes quickly, but conversation and drinking goes on for a lot longer. One of my new friends, Milo, describes these types of events as typically turning into a drinking party, though none of us had the mind to do that.

Fish cooked
Fish

I did my best to eat what I could, sampling everything, which is the main benefit for me with these types of meals. And, our conversations could have gone on for much longer. Poor Milo turned into a translator throughout the night when stories needed to be shared in both languages for full inclusion and understanding. Milo moved to Canada when he was 9 and back to China for a year in High School and now back to China for a work endeavor so his Chinese and English skills are thankfully impeccable.

Food
A feast! I feel like we eat like Royalty with so much food being served and the restaurant being so nice.

This phase of language learning, for me, feels like I’m handicapped. For instance, while getting ready at the gym switching my shoes at the benches, the kids (maybe aged 6/7?) ending their training session were enamored with me, saying “hi” in English. I would respond both in English and Mandarin. They were so cute and one girl was very dramatic about how difficult the training was and how tired she was that she literally plopped down on the mats next to me chattering away, arms and legs splayed as though she was too tired to move again. I understood this much but lacked any words to communicate with her until I heard her say she was ready to go to sleep. Then I laughed as I said “go to sleep” back to her in Mandarin. She giggled and rolled over, blushing and chattered some more. I fell back into handicapped mode and wished I could learn Mandarin faster. It was a similar feeling at dinner, though Milo’s gracious translating and engaging conversation helped keep me involved and in touch with everyone else.

After dinner, a cake was brought out. Zhou’Er is a baker but he didn’t bake this cake. He and his wife, however, ordered it and added some final touches to it. You have to know how much thought went into this because they asked the bakery to make sure the top looked like mountains, and Zhou’Er’s wife (so sorry I can’t recall her name) had to hunt for the climbing additions she added. It was perfect!

Top of cake
Top of the cake
Front view of cake
Front view of cake

In the States, you can’t bring in outside food into restaurants because of health code violations or some such thing. They didn’t seem to have a problem with us bringing in a cake and eating it there. Once again, the cake came with it’s own cutting spatula, cake plates, and cake forks. I’m really enjoying the cakes I’ve been having because even though they are cake, they are not overly sweet. Traditionally, I have not appreciated Chinese “sweets” because of the strange tastes and the lack of sweetness, which always threw me. Now, I’m finding an array of items that I enjoy eating because they taste good and don’t need to be any sweeter.

Though the meal was over and the cake eaten, drinks were still being served and we continued to chat. I believe if people didn’t have other obligations, and it wasn’t a Sunday night, we could have chatted for much longer than we did. We eventually walked back to the gym where I retrieved my scooter and everyone said farewell. Except, when I came back from getting my scooter, they were still there and a man who looked like a crossing guard (could have been a policeman) approached on his scooter (much fancier than mine). I was puzzled.

This man was trying to pack his scooter into the car. Everyone was just standing there while Zhou’Er was speaking to the man. The scooter didn’t fit in the back seat so they were going to try the trunk. The scooter man lays a blanket down and the scooter rests on it then they close it up and the man prepares to drive the car. I ask Milo what is going on and he tells me drinking and driving laws are fierce and if you’ve had any amount of alcohol, you are safer to call for a driver to drive you home, than risk getting pulled over and put in jail.

“Rent a driver” folding his scooter and putting it in the trunk of Zhou’Er’s car so he can drive him home and then return to his route.

I was shocked! Of course people shouldn’t drink and drive, but a zero tolerance society was…wow! I thought at first this man was called to check their alcohol levels to validate they could drive or something like that because he was so formal. Then, I’m told you order this man through an app and pay for his service. It’s really genius. Many times myself, or my friends don’t want to leave their vehicles in the city and uber home and have to uber back to get their car. This would solve that. Of course for safety and etc. there should be corollary laws in place to protect citizens, the vehicle, etc. but I still think it’s a good idea. It’s a relief to know that your friends will get home safely.

We wrapped up the night and I’m happy to say the best gift I received was the enlistment of these new friends to become the new LCZ adult training team for climbing!

I was over the moon excited they were interested that it was all I could talk about to anyone who would listen. We have LCZ, former Captain of the Chinese National Climbing team, myself a former US National team competitor, Zhou’Er a strong but recreational climber, and Milo, a fairly new but improving also recreational climber with mountain climbing aspirations. Now that we have agreed to be a team for the next 6 weeks, we need to decide how we want to train. We don’t have all of the resources I’m used to so the training will have to be a bit creative and for that I rely on LCZ’s input. For the structure, we will decide our approach and plan tonight at our first training meeting. I can’t wait!!

I’m moved by how much generosity and genuine interest these strangers have for me and their commitment to climbing. I’m excited to get to know them better and I’m looking forward to getting stronger and improving my climbing for the duration that I’m here. I think we will learn something from each other and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you, the reader and my friends back home.

Once again, thanks for reading my blog.

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