Monday, August 1, 2011

It’s a Big Jump from Walking in the Neighborhood

Remember the post about Yanni’s “Climb for Clean Air” when she was getting ready to trek to the top of Mt. Rainier? You’ll want to know what happened on July 22, the day of her ascent as part of a team for annual fundraising event of the American Lung Association®.

Start by imagining climbing up a steep snow trail when it’s 32 degrees with 30-mile-an-hour winds boiling around you and visibility barely 10 feet. Oh, right—figure in the wind chill factor, which made the temperature below freezing. “I’m five-foot-three,” she says, “and I felt like I was going to be blown off the trail by the gusts!” But none of this deterred Yanni from beginning the climb at 10AM with her team to reach Camp Muir.

You know about Yanni’s passion for the outdoors and her determination to make it to the summit of Mt. Rainier—a second time. You’ll also remember her challenges of lung disease and cancer. As fierce as her determination was to make it to the top, she couldn’t overcome the day’s damp cold that affected her lungs, adding pressure and making it harder and harder to breath. Wisely, she decided to stop her climb at 10,000 feet when the group arrived at Camp Muir so as not to endanger her teammates. “I was disappointed. I can’t lie,” she says. “But I encouraged my husband to go on.”

Waiting for her team to return to Camp Muir turned into a magical experience. Three other climbers had to return with one of the guides before summiting. When they were settled, the guide asked if she wanted to “take a walk.” Her instant answer was “yes,” and they hiked over to Cathedral Rock, high above the clouds on the east side of Mt. Rainier. Midway, she learned her husband was coming back down and would meet her on the top of Cathedral Gap, somewhere around 10,900ft. Together again, they watched the sun climbing over a sea of clouds changing color from pink to orange to gold as the first sparkling rays etched the morning with light. “At that moment, I could have cared less about summiting,” she says. “It was a magical experience and one I’d never have had if I was on a climbing schedule. Then, you can’t stop or look around too long.” (Read more about her climb here.)

After 30 hours without sleep and more than 53,000 steps, two-thirds of the 80,000 steps needed to reach the peak of Mt. Rainier, Yanni says, “It proves that if you put your heart and mind into something, nothing will stop you. And if I can inspire others to accept their limitations and work around them, I’ve also accomplished my goal.” She plans another try next year for Mt. Rainier with the American Lung Association, and she’s training to run a half-marathon this fall for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® in Portland, Oregon. (For more about this event, click here.)