Reach the Summit helps people climb mountains and raise funds for the American Lung Association
by: Submitted photo, THE SUMMIT — Joe Gstettenbauer of Tualatin stands on the top of Mount Hood during the 2005 Reach the Summit.

Climbing Mount Hood was supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience. Now after four summits on the mountain, Tualatin resident Joe Gstettenbauer is addicted to the view.

At 2 a.m. in the morning, the lights of Portland, Salem and Bend sparkled in the distance as Gstettenbauer began his first climb up Mount Hood in the summer of 2005. The light from a full moon reflected off the packed snow along Hogsback Ridge and gave the roped climbers enough light that the guides suggested they turn off their headlamps.

Packed warmly in his long underwear, non-cotton clothes and Gore-Tex pants and top, Gstettenbauer, then 56, kept up with his group - the fast group as he called it, one made up of much younger climbers.

He and the others kept in their minds the instructions for self-rest and self-belay with the ice axes. His group never had to use the techniques, he said, but they were ready if necessary.

And as they climbed the mountain, Gstettenbauer never realized how steep the slope was and never imagined how intimidating the climb back down would be with the mountain lying below him.

From the top, cars parked at Timberline Lodge looked like ants, and for the first time Gstettenbauer got the view he had always wanted - a view looking down on Lost Lake from 11,239 feet up.

The months of training, of organized hikes with the American Lung Association and the seemingly impossible task of raising $3,000 for the association, at that moment all seemed worth it. And for his triumph, Gstettenbauer celebrated his climb with a view of the sunrise and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

This year, Gstettenbauer is serving as the American Lung Association of Oregon's hike volunteer coordinator for Reach the Summit, a fund-raising program that gives participants the chance to climb mountains.

The program, which Gstettenbauer says provides participants with a 'Cadillac climb,' including training hikes through the month of June and hands-on training from qualified professionals and pre-climb lodging and dinner with climb teams and mountain guides.

'For most people in the program, it's their first climb,' Gstettenbauer said.

The program has grown in popularity for the last three years, increasing by about 10 climbers each year. Last year, about 70 people participated in the program, Gstettenbauer said, with most choosing to climb Mount Hood.

Participants have five mountain climbs to choose from including Mount Jefferson, Mount Shasta, Mount Adams and the Grand Teton. And each mountain has a different fund-raising goal.

This year's Mount Hood climb fund-raising commitment is $3,250 for each participant.

Thinking back to his 2005 climb, Gstettenbauer said it was the fund-raising and not the 11,239-foot-tall mountain that intimidated him the most. Reach the Summit Development Director Jennifer Baldwin said Gstettenbauer's sentiments are pretty common.

'(The fund-raising) is a big deal, and it definitely requires the same amount of commitment as climbing a mountain,' Baldwin said. 'But it can be done by anyone.'

During informational meetings throughout the state, including one set for Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. at the Tualatin REI, Reach the Summit volunteers offer up firsthand accounts about the fund-raising. In general, the association pushes for participants to do letter-writing campaigns.

'Taking the first step is usually the biggest obstacle for people in fund-raising,' said Baldwin.

Most people get involved in the Reach the Summit in order to raise money for a good cause or in memory of a friend or family member who died of a lung disease.

Gstettenbauer did it for the cause and for the view. He had spent summers camping and mountain biking by Lost Lake near Hood River and had always wondered what the view from the top looking down would be like.

After retiring as a social studies teacher and injuring his knees from years of long distance running, Gstettenbauer wanted a different sport.

'Writing was a big part of my life for a long time, but hiking and climbing have sort of filled that void,' he said.

At a Glance

What: Reach the Summit informational meeting

When: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m.

Where: REI, 7410 S.W. Bridgeport Road in Tualatin

For more information, visit

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