Big Expedition for Cancer Research

From left to right: Matt Farmer, Bayard Russell, Kevin Mahoney and Dawn Glanc just below their highpoint on peak 8290', Glacier Bay National Park, AK.

This past June, after a year of preparation, Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center launched its first Big Climb to Conquer Cancer. This is a unique and unprecedented PR tool for raising awareness about the challenges of cancer research which was built on the similarities between cancer research and, not just climbing, but climbing an unclimbed objective. The unknowns, tedious hard work, sometimes overwhelming challenges and occasional successes all combine with the broader simile of knowing right where one wants to get, but not exactly how to get there. Whether the goal is finding a cure for cancer or standing on a virgin summit the path is full of dead ends, unsuspected complications, surprises and you may end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate.

The climbing team consisted of four guides, two whose home base is in Washington state and two from back east, Madison, NH. Dawn Glanc, who just won the Ouray Ice Comp, and Matt Farmer, an IFMGA mountain guide and rock solid climbing partner comprised one rope team. Kevin Mahoney, another IFMGA guide and accomplished alpinist, and I formed the other. In the end, we bailed off our route due to snow conditions, loose rock and lack of anchors. We had gotten to within a few hundred feet of the pyramidal top of the mountain known only as 8290′, and although we would have loved to stand on that summit, realty set in and we had to adapt. As is the case for cancer researchers, who in their massive task of finding a cure for cancer are faced with unforeseen complications and simply must, on occasion, start over. In either case, however, lesson are learned that may help in the future.

Breaching humpback whale.

Getting dropped off at the head of the Reid Inlet, Reid Glacier in the background. The beginning of the 16 mile approach to base camp.

Dawn hauling one of three loads up onto the ice on our first day.

Grizzly bear tracks.

More grizzly tracks, this time eight miles from the beach.

Taking a break with our objective, 8290', in the background. Its the pointy summit directly above Dawn's head (pink hat).

Farmer skinning up to the col that separated our basecamp from 8290'.

We climbed in relative darkness, so the only actions shots are of the descent. Bayard and Kevin down climbing, Kevin is in the background.

More down climbing, Kevin and Bayard.

The base of the ridge we attempted, 3/4's of us assembled.

Heading home in perfect travel conditions.

Our last night on the glacier was beautiful, Glacier Bay in the background.

Kevin and Farmer relaxing on our way out of the Reid Inlet, starting the fifty mile boat ride across Glacier Bay and back to civilization.

Neighborhood Craggin

On the most blustery of days its time to go mixed climbing. It just works out that a surprising amount of the single pitch mixed crags we frequent are sunny, and sheltered from the NW wind that tears across NH this time of year. Its perfect. Hike out in a pair of warm Sorels, slip on some “fruitboots” and have some fun in the sun, knowing full well you could be shivering in the wind while your partner rains down hunks of brittle ice.

Neighbors Kevin Mahoney, Freddy Wilkinson and I spend a lot of these days at the local crag, tucked into the hills of East Madison, NH on Kevin’s family’s own land. Today, down there in the sun, the climbing was comfortable and the ice was growing, despite the single digit temperatures.

Freddy Wilkinson on an unamed mixed route, Toko Crag.

Cathedral Style?

In a town surrounded by dozens of crags you only have to tell a North Conway local, “meet me at The Cliff” and they’ll know right where to go. And getting there is easy; park a few hundred feet from your route, or drive right to the top. Convenient it is, but Cathedral Ledge is also packed with more than its fair share of year round adventure.

Bayard on Black Crack, Cathedral Ledge (NEI 5+ M7+)

Its the hub and a better home crag couldn’t exist. Its where folks figure out how to make an anchor, handjamb, use their feet, fiddle in a nests’ of RP’s, and finally, how to go for it. The climbing is cerebral and technical in the summer and it retains those qualities throughout the winter, but with the added excitement of verglas, spindrift and the heavy metal rhythm of steep, fat, blue ice.

A long climbing history and a passionate group of devoted locals form the backdrop to the slabs and cracks of the cliff. The community is real, hardworking and littered with characters. Its a hard group to leave, and it’s open to whomever is ready to trade an ordinary existence for a climbing life in a place without ready made careers. On a summer evening after a route and after dark, you sit and have a beer in the dirt with three generations of climbers who have made similar decisions and sacrifices for this way of life.

Anne Skidmore photo of Bayard on LA Bubblebath (5.11d), Cathedral Ledge

“Cathedral style” is a way we describe a type of thin, balancey, thought provoking climbing with fidgety gear and technical sequences. Its old school and usually less than vertical. But, when away on a climbing trip and a friend tells you, “don’t worry the next pitch is Cathedral style, you’ll be fine,” more than just the slow, cerebral tic-tac of Cathedral Ledge footwork comes to mind. I think of summer nights, great belay ledges and PBR in the parking lot with friends.