SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

High Adventure for a Cause

Mount Rainier crevasse climb with Eric Roche

I do not do high adventure. I am more of a low adventure kind of guy doing snowshoeing, hiking, backpacking, quiet-water canoeing and camping whereby my feet are close to the ground or I’m gliding on gentle waters.

I see high adventure as those who do higher risk-taking activities such as whitewater kayaking or rafting, scuba diving, hang gliding, parasailing, rock climbing, mountain climbing and the list goes on. This past February I watched a segment of 60Minutes on CBS about extreme sports that really caught my eye…with free-solo climbing where a rock climber ascends high places like the Half Dome without ropes, harnesses or other climbing gear. It was almost unbelievable and tough to watch.

Another extreme adventure on that program included jumping off mountains. “Birdmen” as they refer to themselves, hike up a mountain and then jump off a high ledge soaring at about 140 mph down to an altitude where they open a parachute to bring them safely to the ground. Exciting to watch, but definitely it is not my cup of tea. The closest I ever came to a mountain adventure was hiking on Mt. Rainier trails and walking around on the lowest part of Inner Glacier. I did not go any higher. And I did not leap from any ridges.

I met Eric Roche at an academic advising conference several years ago. The conference was held at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where Eric works as an academic counselor. When we were introduced, Eric said he was an outdoor adventure enthusiast. This of course took our conversation to talking about adventures rather than university advising. I crossed paths with him other times when attending such conferences.

Eric above the clouds on Mount Rainier

Eric Roche does high adventures. In August, 2010, he summited Mt. Rainier. Following a glacial skills seminar in Washington State, he joined a group that took six days to climb to the 14,411 foot summit. The mountaineering course included glacial rope skills, self-arrest, crevasse rescue, advanced rope training and other climbing skills that prepared him for not only Mt. Rainier, but also served as a “prerequisite climb” as Eric called it, for bigger mountain climbing.

So now Eric has his sights set on Alaska’s Denali as his next high adventure. With over 6 million acres, Denali National Park is home to the tallest mountain in North America….Mt. McKinley at 20,320 feet high. His expedition is set for June 23 through July 14, 2012. In preparation for this climb, Eric has been involved in a six-month progressive cardiovascular exercise and weight training program. He says that in addition to lifting weights and using stair mill machines to build upper body and leg strength, he was routinely active this winter cross country skiing while pulling or packing weight on his back. Eric says, “I love to carry my 2 year-old son Gus on my back, or pull him in a Kinder Shuttle pulk sled for longer hikes.” Currently, Eric hikes with a 60 pound backpack while dragging a 40 pound tire to simulate pulling a sled of gear on the mountain.

Eric conditioning with son Gus

Eric plans to bring along his Redfeather Rainier snowshoes, since the climb requires they have snowshoes along for various areas of the mountain. “I will be putting those snowshoes to good use” he says.  Eric buys local in that Redfeather snowshoes are manufactured in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

From what I read in books and have seen on television when it comes to reasons why people do high adventure or extreme sports, I most often find their motivation relates to the challenge, the thrill, the adrenalin rush and sometimes the competition. Whether these adventure seekers are high Type-A personalities or they are “thrill seekers,” they all seem to have that need for extreme adventure coursing through their veins.

I see this somewhat in Eric. He is active, athletic and takes on outdoor challenges. But I see something different in him than I do not see in most others who do similar high adventures. He is taking on the Mt. McKinley challenge for another reason…one of altruism. Eric is using his climb to help raise money for children and youth with physical disabilities so they can attend camps that normally they cannot afford.

Eric and some of his students at the university created a non-profit fundraising initiative known as “Camp Dreams.”  The organization’s goal is to raise $4,000 to finance a young boys and girls with physical disabilities affecting mobility and speech so they may attend two camps that fosters learning, personal growth and development, and recreation.  Camp Dreams slogan is “learning; realizing potential; breaking barriers; the sky is the limit.”

Marissa Bartels of Delano, MN, a 15 year-old athlete attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Wheelchair Basketball Camp in 2010

Camp Dreams will use a portion of the proceeds to provide tuition for youth to attend the UW-Whitewater sponsored Wheelchair Basketball Camp this coming summer. Focusing on physical, mental and emotional growth through sporting activities, participants will have fun while gaining greater awareness of their abilities and enhancing their self-confidence. From what I hear, UW-Whitewater has the number-one collegiate wheelchair basketball team in the nation.

The Authentic Voices of America Camp at UW-Whitewater helps youth with severe speech impairment to develop communication skills using augmentative electronic devices. The week-long camp at UW-Whitewater helps build independence and self -confidence while having camp fun. Camp Dreams will also use proceeds from the drive to send kids to this camp.

Climb for Camp Dreams is Eric’s personal mountain climbing effort to raise money for Camp Dreams. I asked Eric what lead him to create this program. “I am blessed to be able to experience life the way I choose to experience it” he said, adding “I look at life with a wide lens now feeling privileged to go on that backpacking trip, or ride my mountain bike, or pursue a climb of Mt. McKinley.”

The message became clear to me when Eric expressed, “So with that in mind, I know that there are a great many people in the world who face limitations that I could not even fathom.” He said, “I finally decided that for any unique adventure I choose to pursue, I will also dedicate myself to helping others in some way find their way to an opportunity that would give them a similar if not greater satisfaction then I get from my endeavors.” Eric relies on his legs and health to do those things he likes to do in life…like climb a mountain. So, with empathy in mind, Eric is taking to Mt. McKinley for these kids who cannot climb.

By way of his climb, Eric plans to raise awareness of people with disabilities, as well an inspire others to climb with him through his effort to raise funds for Camp Dreams. Eric says for those who donate to Camp Dreams, he will recognize and thank them on the summit…weather permitting. For information on Camp Dreams, the 2012 summer camps, and to join the climb online, you can go to their website at http://campdreams.meghdesigns.com/.

Eric’s fund raising efforts may seem small in dollar amounts when compared to such fund raisers as United Way or March of Dimes that gets into the thousands of dollars. But for those youth with disabilities who will attend camps, this effort can make a significant difference in their lives and is therefore monumental. The climb to over 20,000 feet above sea level is monumental as well. Not only in the life of Eric Roche who I am sure will be challenged and enriched by his experience, but also for those few lives that he will impact back home in Wisconsin.

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About Jim Joque

Jim Joque is a Midwest writer on snowshoeing, backpacking and canoeing. He retired from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as director of disability services and adjunct adventure education instructor, having taught snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace.

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