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Mountain aftermath [part 2]

Guest post by Matt MacDonald of 63mph is a story about finding your own speed and following it, not necessarily following the ones established by those before you.

Mt Rainier is a unique mountain but not because it’s tall. Mt Rainier is one of the few mountains in the world that can be seen from two major cities, which means it hovers above mostly a mystery to a million people a day. The other weirdos, a tiny percentage, stare at the rock long enough they eventually have to be on top.

Every time I see Rainier rising up through the haze, even when I’m just slurping a coffee in town, I feel it … I’m intimidated by it. Mountains have that way of making us feel the lesser, and perhaps that’s why we climb them. I think that was partly why the MiiR team set off to climb Rainier a few weeks ago, but more prominently, the climb was a vehicle to raise money for clean drinking water worldwide.

If you’re like me, you may have become a bit jaded on physical-pursuit-fundraising-activities – I get one of those “Hey! I’m running/climbing/biking This to raise money for That” emails at least once a month from a friend. It’s always a sweet activity for a totally sweet cause, but these emails seem to lose their meaning the more I see them.

So I was a bit skeptical when I joined the MiiR climb in 2012 as the photographer, even though Bryan and Bec (founder and founder’s wife) are two of my best friends. But when I stopped making assumptions I saw something real going on. I saw MiiR’s “Behind The Bottle” documentary and watched the team build wells with local communities in Liberia. I began asking questions and listened to Bryan talk and saw the Love on his face when he talked about MiiR’s business model.

The one4one model isn’t just some add-on or trendy wave MiiR’s hoping to surf; the man literally cannot do business without it. It’s his purpose, his way of existence, and Bryan makes you believe in it because he lives it himself.

Crank the clock forward to July 29th, 2013. The MiiR team, all 17 of us, were warm in our sleeping bags at Muir Camp. We had hiked the 4,000-vertical feet to get to a cabin the size of your bedroom, where we attempted to sleep.

It was 11:08PM when the guides woke us. Yes, 11:08PM – still the night before our planned summit on July 30th. I laughed one of those are-you-kidding-me laughs when I looked at my watch. The best sleepers got four hours of sleep, and I’m pretty sure most of us got about one. But then you put on your crampons and grab your ice axe and step out on the glacier that’s reflecting the waning moon, and things are all right again.

Physically, Mt Rainier is a really long cold uphill hike, one that if you don’t dress or eat correctly you’re in trouble fast. You’re on the edge of the conditions your body can handle, so you have to take care of yourself. Any fit person can climb Mt Rainier via the Disappointment Cleaver route,  it comes down to putting your mind in the right place … finding comfort in the uncomfortable.

It was harder this year than last to find comfort in the the technical piece – this year’s climb was exciting.  I use the word exciting to describe things in life that are actually terrifying. In the moment, you can’t admit they are terrifying if you hope to retain any sanity, so you come up with fake words to aid the denial.

An example of exciting: crossing a rickety ladder bridge laying across a crevasse (hole) that looks to be a hundred feed deep. We had four of those crossings this year. The safety devices are in place, but you don’t want to test them, and you definitely don’t want to let the team down, so you take a deep breath and let everything else fall from your thoughts.

With strong brains and strong bodies, all 17 MiiR climbers and 5 guides summited at 6AM. The sun was peeking and the lenticular clouds were forming, indicating winds in the upper atmosphere were really hustling, as fast as 200mph. We snapped a few photos and boogied back to lower places, and that’s when the show really started.

I have been on lots of mountains during the magic hours and I will be on many more, but I wrote down in my journal that day “not sure I’ll ever see one like this again.” At 14,000 feet, there were (at least) four different cloud layers that filtered the rising sun. These clouds scattered the suns rays, turning them into giant light fingers across the sky. The horizon line appeared to be the meeting of two battling rivers … the kinda stuff that makes you say Wow without words to back it up.

As we descended back down to city comforts and tried to find words for the post-climb emotions, there were a few that were certain –  MiiR Mt Rainier Climb 2013: $13,016.72 raised for clean water, 17 summits, 17 brains a little more sure it’s possible.

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