Imagine climbing more than 9,000 feet, through glaciers, deep crevasses and unstable rocks, all in weather conditions that can change in an instant, to reach the summit of your state’s tallest mountain.
Now imagine doing it at 78 years old.
Monday July 10, Rose Vanderhoof of Ashford, Wash, became the oldest woman to summit Mount Rainier, the 14,400-foot volcano that dominates the western part of the state. The previous record was held by the legend of Rainier Bronka Sundstromwho was 77 years old when he reached the summit in 2002.
In an interview with FOX TV Stations, the 4-foot-11-inch climber said she had no plans to break her friend’s record; she tried to do this ascent two years ago at 76, but it didn’t work. Last year, she discussed climbing Mt. Rainier, but she opted instead for the 93-mile Wonderland trail that circles the mountain.
When asked earlier this year if she would attempt to climb the mountain at 78, she said “it depends on God.”
“I was going to leave everything in his hands,” he said.
Vanderhoof began discussing a potential takeover, then learned his son and granddaughter also wanted to join. That’s when he started conditioning, which became a family affair.
They made steep hikes and climbs and trained on glaciers with ropes and ice axes to prepare for their big ascent. But at 78, Vanderhoof was no longer able to carry the 40-pound pack needed to get back up the mountain. They found volunteer “Sherpas” willing to hike eight miles — twice — to carry gear back and forth from Camp Muir, a base camp for Rainier climbers.
The dangers of climbing Mount Rainier
Mountaineering is not for the faint of heart, and Rainier, also known as Tahoma, has a unique set of challenges. Hundreds of people died during the summit attempt.
Second Post at the topan online climbing community, among the long list of dangers you face while climbing include:
- Altitude sickness (high altitude cerebral oedema, pulmonary oedema)
- Crevasse falls
- Gliding on ice and rocks
- Falling rocks
- Unstable glacier cliffs
- Weather: High winds, cold temperatures, humidity, blizzards, lightning and intense sunshine, rapidly changing conditions
This wasn’t Vanderhoof’s first Mount Rainier summit—it’s his ninth—but it was his last and most monumental. Vanderhoof has been mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest for about 35 years. He’s climbed Washington’s other volcanoes—Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Glacier Peak—countless times, and attempted Mount Baker.
“I know this is a really, really tough climb,” Vanderhoof said. “It’s not just physical. It’s a big mental thing.”
Vanderhoof’s final ascent
The group began their arduous journey on July 8 for what would be a four-day journey. They camped two nights going up the mountain and one night going down. Before the trip began, Vanderhoof said she didn’t care much if they reached the top.
Climbers line up Mount Rainier during the Mount Rainier Celebrity Climb to benefit the Nisqually River Land Trust. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (Photo by �� Bohemian Nomad Picturemakers/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Ima
“I just wanted this to be a fun climb for all of us that would be like one big camp, and if we reached the top, that would just be a big plus,” he said. “I wanted my son and granddaughter in particular to really enjoy the climb whether we did it or not. The goal was fellowship with each other and also giving glory to God because we are all people of faith.”
Along the way, they battled freezing temperatures, hail, rain and more, but Vanderhoof said the pack stayed strong. He even found his granddaughter at base camp consoling a climbing partner who was crying and afraid of finishing the trip.
“About halfway through, my son looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for you,'” Vanderhoof recalled. “He didn’t realize how difficult it was.”
The final leg of the journey to the top began at 11pm under calm skies, but the group faced altitude sickness and extreme cold winds as they traversed huge crevasses to make their final ascent.
“It got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could make it,” he recalled. “I was completely exhausted. I was praying and praying, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I kept repeating it.
“I could only see the faces of the people who had encouraged me and prayed for me,” she continued. “And I thought, ‘I can’t stop.’ And so I pushed harder than I’ve ever pushed in my life.”
Rose Vanderhoof, her son, and granddaughter with their climbing group atop Mount Rainier (Rose and Ted Vanderhoof)
By the time they got to 13,000 feet in elevation, the sun had begun to rise. Vanderhoof could see clouds below her and storm clouds with lightning and thunder in the distance. When the group reached the summit around 8am, there was applause, tears and lots of hugs.
“We could look down and see the sunrise,” he said. “Everything was so beautiful.”
Like many climbers, Vanderhoof left a note in the summit log box letting everyone know that she had just become the oldest woman to climb Rainier.
“We took our time and took it all in, because this is the last time I’m coming here,” Vanderhoof recalled.
But what goes up must come down, and so began their descent, another risky two-day trek through extreme conditions. When the group reached base camp, their “sherpas” greeted them with food, drinks and applause. All the rangers wanted to know about Vanderhoof’s great feat.
She was treated to similar fanfare at the foot of the mountain, where her husband was waiting with balloons and a warm hug. Then came the pizza and the party.
“It was a great time,” Vanderhoof said.