Climbing against the odds

Courtesy of Karl Kecman

Durango native Shannon Hahn ascends Putney Peak on Red Mountain Pass during a recent backcountry ski outing. Hahn has set a goal to raise $10,000 as a member of a 27-person team that will climb California’s Mount Shasta later this month in the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds.

By Jim Sojourner Herald staff writer

Shannon Hahn isn’t worried about reaching the 14,179-foot Mount Shasta summit by climbing almost 10,000 vertical feet above the mountain’s base elevation.

The Durango native is not too worried about the predawn start, the 16 to 18 hours on a snowpacked technical route of the Northern California peak or using crampons, ice axes and ropes.

No, Hahn’s biggest concern before she ropes up and hits the trail as part of the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds is fundraising.

“I really want to hit my $10,000 fundraising. That would be the biggest accomplishment to me because that’s the biggest challenge, and I knew that was the biggest challenge going into it,” Hahn said.

A customer service representative at Osprey Packs in Cortez, Hahn said she found out about the Climb Against Odds a couple of years ago as Osprey has been an annual sponsor of the expedition, which aims to raise money and awareness for breast cancer prevention.

A friend participated in the climb two years ago, and when this year rolled around, Hahn decided to take up the challenge herself.

Osprey gave her the first push, donating $1,000 of the $1,750 of expedition expenses. After that, it was all up to Hahn.

The Breast Cancer Fund requires that participants raise at least $6,000.

“I’ve never fundraised before, so that was a little scary,” Hahn said.

Scary without too much cause. According to her fundraising website, by Thursday Hahn already had raised almost $6,600.

Hahn said her primary goal for the climb is to spread a message of breast cancer prevention to as many people as possible.

According to the Breast Cancer Fund, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime – an increase from 1 in 22 in the 1940s.

Because only 50 percent of breast cancer cases are linked to traditional risk factors such as family and reproductive history, diet and exercise, Hahn said it’s important to make everyone aware that toxic chemicals in common food and household products could be contributing to the sharp rise in cancer diagnoses.

Simple steps such as choosing BPA-free bottles and canned foods, never microwaving food in plastic containers, choosing foods free of pesticides and hormones and using cleaning products and personal cosmetics made with nontoxic ingredients could prevent breast cancer tragedies like those that have affected people she’s met through the Breast Cancer Fund’s education program, Hahn said.

Although she has no personal connection to breast cancer, time could, and likely will, change that, Hahn said, and working toward a healthier environment for everyone and stopping breast cancer before it starts is a “win–win.”

“I just feel for other people. You don’t have to have a personal connection to realize what a tragedy getting breast cancer can be,” Hahn said. “It’s definitely fueling my effort in fundraising. I feel just as motivated knowing its helping people I don’t know.”

Once the hard work of fundraising is completed, the June 19-21 climb is all gravy, Hahn said. Mostly.

“The mountain expedition part is just really exciting for me. I really like backpacking and that kind of thing,” she said.

An active outdoorswoman, Hahn said she’s done her share of 14,000-foot peaks during the summertime, but never a technical snow climb until she completed a free single-day mountaineering course provided by Durango’s Southwest Adventure Guides that took her to the top of Snowdon Peak (13,077 feet) near Silverton a few weeks ago, where she learned to use an ice ax, crampons and self-arrest techniques.

“I was on such a high when I finished,” Hahn said. “When I got back down, I couldn’t believe what a champ I was.”

Other than that, it’s just stepping up the outdoor training regimen – including riding in her first-ever Iron Horse bicycle race last weekend – to prepare to help her 27-woman team to the top of Shasta.

Located in California’s Cascade Range, Mt. Shasta is the second-highest peak in that range behind Washington’s Mount Rainier and also is the second-highest volcano in the United States.

The technical assent will be the 13th major mountaineering expedition for breast cancer prevention after a group of women breast cancer survivors first climbed Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America at 22,841 feet, in 1995, and it also marks the 20th anniversary of the Breast Cancer Fund.

This year’s group will be under the wing of Shasta Mountain Guides, who will be leading the Breast Cancer Fund and its Climb Against Odds for the ninth year.

“It’s an amazing organization. ... It obviously just rings true for us,” said Jenn Carr, one of the Shasta Mountain Guide owners. “As a company, what we like best about that climb is that it’s not just a group of people climbing; they’re climbing for a bigger picture, something that’s going to benefit us all ... so it gives our work a lot of meaning.”

Carr said the Breast Cancer Fund group will be climbing the west face of the peak, a nonglaciated route that ascends 7,000 vertical feet. It’s an easier route for those without technical glacier experience and also one less traveled for more of a wilderness experience, she said.

“It’s a beautiful climb,” she said. “But it’s still the real deal ... that doesn’t mean that its easy. It’s a great place to get an introduction to mountaineering, get some skills and move on from there.”

After setting up camp on the first day of the three-day expedition, the group will break into smaller groups to traverse the Mount Shasta Wilderness Area starting in the early morning of the second day.

“We get up really early at about 1 a.m.,” Carr said. “That’s the middle of the night by most people’s standards.”

The small groups will depart at half-hour intervals, making use of optimal snow conditions before the daytime sun turns it wet and mushy.

The groups, at times, will be roped together with a guide as they work their way up and down the peak over the course of up to 18 hours, and those teams will include women who don’t have much on-mountain experience.

“I’m hoping what I can bring to the team is be dialed and fit enough that that’s not so much a challenge,” Hahn said.

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