Cindy was one of 40 people who last month climbed the dormant volcano Mt. Shasta, a 14,162-foot mountain in Northern California’s Cascade Mountain Range. Many participants had little or no mountain-climbing experience; many were women living with breast cancer or had survived it.
For some climbers, including Cindy, the expedition was an expression of finding strength through adversity, as well as a commitment to raising funds for breast cancer prevention.
“A couple of dear friends at the Breast Cancer Fund came to me in 2003 asking me to do the climb. I've wanted to climb this mountain for a long time, but I've been doing hair for about 30 years now, I have my own business, I have five kids— and I couldn't find time to train.
“But what a difference a year can make! At this point, it’s a very personal journey. In my 49th year—I feel like I'm climbing mountains in terms of overcoming trials and tribulations.
“I've been doing hair for a long time. I love working behind that chair! I've created some wonderful friendships through the salon. But you know what? It’s one in six here in Marin County [women stricken with breast cancer]. I look around my salon more often than I can tell you, and I'm in the company of six women all the time.
“They have breast cancer when they come in. I shave their heads and watch their families go through it with them. Many live in fear—hoping it’s gone for five years. Then they take these drugs that make them gain weight, along with other side effects, and they have new things to worry about. It’s hard to watch the family members try to make this journey, wondering ‘will my mother be gone soon, or maybe not?’
“In my salon, everyone wants to support this cause. It’s fun to offer other people the opportunity to give $50, $100 dollars, to give $250 where they can make a real difference. It’s creating greater awareness for prevention.”
When asked about her training, Cindy laughs heartily.
“Well, sometimes you just do the best you can. There is hiking with 40 pounds on your back, and yoga, running and weight lifting. I really wanted to make it to the top of that mountain, but I saw the benefits of this mountain I’m climbing in my day-to-day life—with my mental capacities being sharper and being in better shape than I've ever been.
“Just watching the body get stronger is fabulous. If you do something over and over again, you're going to make a difference. If you do push-ups every day, you're going to add a few more push-ups and your arms are going to get stronger. In feeling stronger, you walk taller and better.
“That mountain is more than 14,000 feet high. We climb to 8,100 feet with 40 pounds on our back, then we pitch tents and do some practice. You have to take an ice ax with you so that you can self-arrest and stop yourself if you fall.
“So you practice, eat, then go to bed and try to sleep until 12:30 in the morning. Then we get up, put our headlamps on, and start hiking. It’s 12 hours to the summit, and there are time benchmarks that you have to make along the way because you have to be able to get back down. You have to not only have the strength to get up, but the strength to get back down, and that takes a certain type of leg strength.
“And there’s the mental climbing attitude. Climbing really focuses your mental clarity in a curious Zen-like fashion. Doing a climb like this takes intense inward focus and concentration. “It’s very slow, the oxygen is thinner. At the top of that mountain, it’s one big breath per step. We all want to make it to the top; at the same time, you just go as far as you can.”
On July 13, Cindy reached Red Banks at 12,900 feet, just shy of the summit, but ending right where she wanted.