Summit For Syrians- Our Story

We were bound together by blood, marriage, close friendship and a sense of purpose more important than any one of us. Our hope was to summit Mt. Rainier, of course, but it was also to direct attention to the cry for help coming from the Syrian refugees who just hope to survive, recover and rebuild for the next generation. This was the Summit for Syrians.

Our bond was strong and our leader, Dan, was like the weaver who must constantly batten the weft, keeping our team of eight unified as a single, tightly woven cloth.

Our guides were surprised by the weather…unusually perfect for late May. They were impressed by our sense of purpose as a team. We moved up the mountain as one, our gears humming like a finely tuned road bike. We had great joy in the moment, jousting with ice axes during training, laughing at our high-altitude flatus expulsion (HAFE) and occasionally beleaguered by the gotta-go blue bag blues.

When we climbed, we climbed with determination, confident that we would succeed. Teammate David knew soon after leaving high camp that we would summit. In a moment about 30 minutes into summit morning, the goal crystalized, and he had an unstoppable feeling.

I enjoyed renewed strength that came to me moments before our summit climb began, when the weaver came to lift me up in prayer! In that moment, I knew that even though I was struggling with the effects of a chest cold above 11,000 feet, I could make the summit despite any pain I might experience. Liam and I shared a rope on the summit climb. He climbed as if he had been a mountaineer all his life. As we neared the top of the Disappointment Cleaver, Liam looked at the rope teams behind us and saw the consistent movement of the faceless headlamps that were crushing it; there was a steady coordinated upward flow. That’s when Liam knew we would summit.

Michael was on the lead rope team, the first to cross the steepening slope of the Emmons Glacier. He saw three other rope teams moving relentlessly up the boot pack carved into the side of a never-ending glacier. All were moving at a determined pace, not slowing for the cold, wind, or grade. The three teams seemed unstoppable to him then. He saw power in the persistence and endurance of the teams. At that moment it seemed to him that those teams could overcome anything.

My daughter Emily began the climb with a fear of heights. I knew she was strong physically, but I was concerned when I saw that she would have to leap over a 4-foot wide crevasse with a bottom so deep that the colors faded from blue to black down into the abyss. Emily had already anchored her way along the top of the Emmons Glacier singing a tune “bring restoration” over and over again, asking God for courage. She gave a long pause before making the leap over the crevasse and in that jump she rested her fear of heights forever. Emily soared.

Dan was at our last break before the summit, roped to his wife Emily. He watched as his brother Pat offered Rainier a couple of minutes of his insides, each retch tunneling deeper brown into the snowpack. Then he clearly heard Pat cry out, “boot and rally!” The no quit spirit emerged from a day of food poisoning that would have stopped most men, but Pat was woven into the team and courageously willed his way to the summit before leaving his mark again on the ¼-mile wide crater bowl.

Raja had a special moment on the descent from the summit, seeing the path we had crossed in the dark only a few hours before. It gave him an appreciation of how important one-step-at-a-time psychology is in pushing through immense challenges. To process the whole path ahead would have been overwhelming.

At 6:05 am on June 1, 2016, the eight of us were on the summit of Mt Rainier. We will forever be bound together by this special adventure of suffering, prayer, ice-like will and a joy beyond words. The only “disappointment” we experienced was a cleaver left far behind! The $40,000 raised for humanitarian assistance for the Syrian refugees is just a small step in the rugged climb Syrian families must make in their lives. Reaching out to others begins with a first step.

We dedicated our summit to their endurance.