Published on September 1st, 2011 | by Phyl Newbeck0
Betsy Ogden | Reader Athlete Sept. 2011
VS: This summer you climbed the 14,179-foot Mount Shasta in California. What inspired you to do that?
BO: In September of 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I learned about the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds and I was intrigued. The Fund is a nonprofit organization devoted to identifying and eradicating the environmental causes of breast cancer. They started this tradition of climbing mountains as a metaphor for fighting the disease. This was their 12th climb on Mount Shasta, and it was just wonderful. There were 33 other climbers representing 13 states. There were a lot from California, but also from Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Montana, and a few Midwestern states.
VS: How did you train for the climb?
BO: I did a lot of trail hiking in Vermont and New Hampshire in the White and Green mountains. I also did some cardiovascular work at the gym, but most of my training was outside on Mount Moosilauke, Mount Washington, and the Appalachian Trail.
VS: Tell us about the climb.
BO: Most people arrived on Sunday night and we spent Monday getting to know each other. The climb took three days, and then we had a day to discuss it, so the group was together for almost a week. In addition to the 34 of us, there were 15 guides and staff members. On the first day, we carried 35 pound packs to base camp, a place called Hidden Valley, which was absolutely beautiful. The next morning, we woke up at 1:30 a.m. and took out our ropes, helmets, headlamps, and ice axes, and headed up the mountain for what would be a 12-hour day. The fun part was the descent—glissading. You sit on your butt and slide down. It’s fun, and it cuts down on the descent time. We spent the night in base camp and then packed up the next morning and headed down to a big celebration at the trailhead.
VS: How was the weather?
BO: The weather was glorious. We were hiking on snow from the very start. The sky was crystal blue, and one of our biggest concerns was sunburn. It was an interesting mix of snow and heat. The view, needless to say, was breathtaking in more ways than one. When you are in the Shasta Trinity National Forest there are great mountain views in every direction, but one constant is Mount Shasta, which rises out of nowhere. You see it from everywhere, so to be on the face of it is amazing and life changing.
VS: Did you have any trouble with the altitude?
BO: Not really, although this was my first time climbing at that height. You can’t really train for it. You can do your cardiovascular training and get used to carrying a pack and just hope that your body will be all right at that elevation. I was well-prepared, and I knew what to expect.
VS: How long have you been cancer-free?
BO: My treatment ended in January of 2010. I have been strong and healthy since then. This trip was very personal for me. I was really honored to carry 28 prayer flags that had names of loved ones and supporters. It was wonderful to be able do that. I had a reason to be going up the mountain besides myself.
VS: What other sports do you do?
BO: I’m a certified Pilates practitioner. I train individuals, and I have taught classes. I’m also a cyclist. I’ve done the Prouty ride, but this year it took place a week after I got back from Mount Shasta. The Prouty is an amazing ride put together by an amazing organization. I enjoy doing it, and I hope to get back to it next year. The truth is, I’m primarily a hiker. This year I’m planning on doing the 20-mile Cross Presidential Traverse in three days, spending the night at the Madison and Lake of the Clouds huts. I’m anxious to get back in the mountains. I would like to go back to Shasta, either with the Breast Cancer Fund or on my own.
VS: What should people know about the Climb Against the Odds?
BO: I think everyone on the climb had a different motivation for being there. We had five cancer survivors and 29 who were not, but everyone has been touched by cancer in one way or another. We each find our way to honor ourselves and our loved ones, whether it’s climbing mountains or just living the life you were meant to live, and honoring each day. It’s an individual choice how you want to do that.
The Breast Cancer Fund raised over $550,000 on this climb. I raised $12,000, and the climbers together raised $400,000. With corporate sponsorship, it came to over half a million. I’m willing to be a resource for anyone interested in doing this climb. If this is the type of activity you enjoy doing, you should try it. It was a great week. I felt pampered the whole time with great food, great staff, and terrific guides. The great thing about a climb like this is you’re never on your own. You have lots of support and it’s wonderful. You learn the value of having friends and supporters. You can’t do it alone.
VS: Do you have aspirations to climb other big mountains?
BO: I do have an interest in hiking new peaks, but the truth is, I’m really looking forward to enjoying the Green and White mountains more. I knew when I was on top of Shasta that it was a big thing, but there is nothing more wonderful than being home. There are some great organizations maintaining trails here. It’s wonderful to live where we live. There’s no place like home.