The Celebration of Life, 2002

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8 peaks in 6 days

Big Jeff Walker died when he was just 42. Kidney cancer had snuffed out a shining light: a 6'6" giant of a man, father, logger, climber, and one of Brian Mahon's best friends. Those who knew Jeff talk of his love of the mountains, his thirst for life, and his eagerness to share both with anyone who had heart.

To commemorate Jeff, each year Brian recreates an event he shared with Jeff, an epic annual adventure they dubbed the "Celebration of Life." Their first celebration was to exult in the birth of Chris, Brian's son, who as an unborn baby had been in dire straights. After a lot of worry, Brian and Jeff made a point to celebrate each of Chris's birthdays by climbing a mountain. Today Chris is a healthy, if not precocious, 10 year old. With Chris's good health, and Jeff's passing, the celebration has been re-focused to honor Jeff, and especially the kind of life he loved. Over the passing years, Brian has celebrated with a variety of people, each year trying to find a new twist on a mountain adventure. He has climbed four peaks in four days, three peaks in 30 hours, and combined climbing with another of Jeff's loves, mountain biking. Since Jeff's passing, some of the celebrations have been publicized as Brian continues to honor a promise he made to Jeff. As Jeff lay in the hospital, he pleaded with Brian, "We gotta let people know about this."

As a Physician's Assistant, Brian works daily to diagnose early symptoms of cancer in his patients. He knows that early detection is by far the best method of preventing cancer from debilitating, or even killing. Women are aware of this; breast exams, PAP smears, and regular doctor visits are part of most women's lives.

However, men have not had this encouragement, so men don't see a doctor regularly. As a result, men with cancer are often diagnosed quite late. This partially explains why women, on average, live longer than men.

In our climbing, we followed the PSS routine:

  • Planning
  • Safeguarding
  • Surveillance.

Men should apply PSS to their health. Alternately, Brian encourages men to think of their bodies the way they think of the car; "Change the oil every 3,000 miles. Rotate the tires every 5,000 miles. Tune it up every 15,000. Men know that if they don't take care of the car, it'll cost them in the long run. They need to put their body on a similar maintenance schedule."

The following table includes the 7 most deadly cancers for men. For more information, call one of these toll-free numbers, or consult your primary health care provider:

Table 1- Peak, elevation, date of ascent, symbolic cancer, and recommended maintenance schedule
Peak Cancer/Maintenance Schedule

Mt. Hood

11,239'

July 15

Colon

  • Start screening at 50, or 10 years before any 1st degree relative was diagnosed.
  • Prevent with low-fat, high-fiber diet.

Mt. Adams

12,276'

July 15

Lung

  • No reliable test.
  • Prevent by avoiding tobacco and 2nd-hand smoke. Report any persistent cough or respiratory complaints to your health care provider.

Mt. St. Helens

8,365'

July 16

Prostate

  • Start screening at 50, or 10 years before any 1st degree relative was diagnosed. Include PSA and rectal exam.

Mt. Washington

7,794'

July 17

Skin

  • Annual exam following the ABCD rule or skin lesions available from your health care provider.
  • Prevent by avoiding overexposure to sun by prudent use of sun block.

North Sister

10,085'

July 18

Oral

  • Report any sores in oral cavity including tongue that do not heal inside two weeks.
  • Prevent by avoiding tobacco products including chewing tobacco.

Middle Sister

10,047'

July 18

Testicular

  • All males between 15 and 40 should do monthly testicular self-examination. Report any lumps, irregularities, or soreness to your health care provider.

South Sister

10,358'

July 18

Bladder

  • Report any blood in urine or urinary discomfort to your health care provider.
  • Prevent by avoiding tobacco products or exposure to heavy metals and industrial chemicals.

Mt. Rainier

14,411'

July 20

Special Bonus for Overall Health

  • free oil change if you exercise, eat well, avoid stress, and stick to the schedule

The climbs

To make men more aware of their cancer risks, Brian set a goal of climbing seven peaks to represent each of the seven deadly cancers. He invited me, John Platt of Boise, Idaho to share in this quest, and keeping with the spirit of the Celebration of Life. We both have climbing backgrounds going back decades, so We knew what to expect on this challenge. Between us, we had climbed most of the seven peaks Brian had in mind. Then, for some reason, I thought we should add the Middle Sister to the North and South, so we ended up with eight peaks. Significantly, these eight peaks total up to about 40,000 feet of vertical.

We knew most of these peaks first-hand, but found ways to make each peak new and exciting. In some cases, we climbed unfamiliar routes to familiar peaks, in others we climbed with people new to the peak. We even climbed one in the dark. But the main challenge was a constant: could we climb seven peaks in seven days? To meet the challenge, we prepared extensively, training hard for about six months. Individually or together, we ran, rode bikes, skied, hiked, and climbed. We spent time going over routes and maps, and even worked on our acclimatization. Even so, we knew there were variables that would be hard to control, things that could bring the trip to a grinding halt. The two most important factors amongst the uncontrollable obstacles were the weather, and the condition of our feet.

The Characters

Although it may seem this was all a speed contest, that is simply not the case, nor the point. The goal was to celebrate life, and life is about the people we love. On almost every day of climbing, and most every peak, we took others with us. Some were very experienced. Others were less so. Our main concern was that they be ready for a great day, and be of heart. We found a great group to celebrate with:

Enough background- let the climbing begin!

Mr. Natural Home | 2002 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski