Local pastor reaches new heights

Troutdale's Gene Heinrich climbs Mount Rainier to help teens
by: Contributed photo Gene Heinrich not only climbed Mount Ranier last month, he raised money for at-risk teens at the same time.

Troutdale resident Gene Heinrich fought through wind, snow, glaciers and high elevation, all to help kids who haven't had the chance to do the same.

The Rockwood Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor climbed to the peak of Mount Rainier on July 28-31 as part of a fundraising venture to help inner city, underprivileged teens have a chance to experience nature.

The climb, which included Heinrich and seven others with a guide team, was organized through Summit for Someone, which is the fundraising branch of Big City Mountaineers, a group that provides outdoor summer programs for at-risk, urban teens.

Big City Mountaineers' core program is the Relate Expedition, which pairs kids ages 13-18 with mentors and takes them on an eight-day backpacking trip.

Heinrich raised more than $4,000 for the program this year, which was enough to sponsor 10 kids. Of the 47 donations he received, the largest was almost $525, he said, while his lowest was 75 cents from a 12-year-old girl.

Heinrich says in the future he hopes to become a mentor, but for now, he's dedicated himself to raising money and encouraging other members of his church to become mentors for the expeditions.

Heinrich has lived in Troutdale for two years after moving from Oklahoma and living in Vancouver for two years. He lives with his three sons; Ethan, 5, Alex, 7, and Nicholas, 10, and his wife, Sarah. From camping trips to weekly hikes, the family is very involved in outdoor activities.

'I take my boys backpacking every year before school starts. It's a really special time for us, and I thought about these kids who have never had an opportunity to do things like that,' Heinrich said. 'I'm hoping (the expedition) can really make a difference in their lives.'

The Mount Rainier trip was not Heinrich's first experience with mountaineering; he has also climbed Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood.

'The outdoors for me plays an important part in de-stressing and refocusing,' he said.

Heinrich's own passion for the outdoors made him consider those who are not so fortunate.

'This last October when we were driving home, I looked in the mirror and all my kids were passed out in the back seat, and my wife and I started talking about all the kids who never get a chance to go out and explore the wilderness,' Heinrich said. 'That got me thinking about what I could do to help those kids.'

Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet high and is known as one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the lower 48 states, Heinrich said. The trek up the mountain was 18 miles round trip, with a 9,000-foot elevation increase. The group took two days to reach the summit, and was only able to stop at the top for 10 minutes because of harsh weather.

To prepare for these conditions, Heinrich began training for the climb last October, using the stair machine and the treadmill at the gym.

'I was in the best shape I've been in since high school, but it was still a real struggle to get to the top,' he said.

Even though it was tough, Heinrich used the climb's larger cause to keep him focused.

'I was climbing to inspire (the kids), climbing to raise money for them,' he said. 'I didn't want them to give up, so I didn't give up.'

Overall, Heinrich said the experience was rewarding on a number of different levels.

'The best part for me was just accomplishing the goal: I've wanted to climb Mount Rainier, and at he same time know I wasn't doing it for my own selfish reasons,' Heinrich said. 'I was doing it to help at-risk teens who otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to get out and experience nature the way I've learned to love it.'

For more information on Big City Mountaineers, visit bigcitymountaineers.org, or to participate in future climbs, visit summitforsomeone.org.