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Sign up to summit Mount Hood in June and fight lung cancer



COURTESY: AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION - People from all walks of life have climbed Mount Hood to raise more than $5 million for lung disease research since 1987. Registration is open now for teams that will start training in January and summit the mountain in June. 
Patty Unfred had never dreamed of climbing a mountain.

But she summited Mount Hood in 2008, and hasn’t stopped since — just last year she climbed Mount St. Helens, the Grand Tetons and Mount Shasta, and this year she may do Mount Baker, along with her brother and sister.

Back in 2008 however, “I was a single mom in my 40s; I didn’t do any hiking or climbing,” says 52-year-old Unfred, who grew up in Portland.

The death of her younger sister changed everything. Cathy Davis, a 39-year-old mother of two, died from lung cancer in April 2006, just four months after being diagnosed. “By the time they found it, it was stage 4,” Unfred says.

Her sister had never smoked, and doctors don’t know why lung cancer is so prevalent or lethal.

But it is the No. 1 leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. More than 100,000 people are diagnosed every year, more than two-thirds of whom have never smoked. In the past 37 years, the lung cancer rate has risen 98 percent among women, and fallen 28 percent among men.

After her sister died, Unfred heard about an American Lung Association event that trains everyday people to summit a mountain and then leads them on an expert-guided climb to raise funds for lung cancer research.

Since its inception in 1987, Climb for Clean Air has trained more than 1,500 men and women to take on the challenge, raising $5 million for lung disease research.

The fee for the Mount Hood program is $3,400 per person, which is offset by personal fundraising (with one-to-one assistance). It includes optional training hikes each weekend, which start off small and grow in length and difficulty. It also includes training in gear and equipment use, and the actual expert-guided team event, plus dinner before and breakfast afterward at Mount Hood’s Silcox Hut, which is only accessible by sno-cat.

Teams start at Silcox Hut in the middle of the night and spend five to seven hours climbing the last 3,000 feet to reach the summit by sunrise.

“There’s a huge community” of past participants, Unfred says — most of whom find the experience so rewarding that they volunteer to help train incoming climbers in following years.

Unfred is one of those who’ll start leading teams on training hikes in January, six months before the June 7-8 Mt. Hood Climb for Clean Air summit.

In addition to raising awareness about lung disease, Unfred is a champion for clean air.

Scientists estimate radon is responsible for about 20 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States each year.

Radon, an invisible, odorless radioactive gas, is present in nearly all the air we breathe at low levels. But many ZIP codes in Portland — much of North, Northeast, Southeast and East Portland, as well as surrounding areas — are considered hot spots, testing at dangerously elevated levels.

The Oregon Health Division recommends that everyone test their home; for guidelines, visit public.health.oregon.gov/HealthyEnvironments/HealthyNeighborhoods/RadonGas/Pages/zipcode.aspx.

Meanwhile, local champions will continue to fight for the cause.

“Most of our climbers have never climbed before; most have never been on a trail before,” says Stacy Allison, co-founder of the event and the first American woman to summit Mount Everest.

Allison, 58, is a native Oregonian who lives in Portland and has been involved with the program since its inception. “I have seen people who have started the program who have very little self-confidence, could barely do a 3-mile walk on the trail,” she says. “They gain that confidence, to be able to walk 10 miles and then walk to the top of the mountain.” People come for all different reasons. Many have a connection to lung disease — 33 million Americans live with a chronic lung disease like asthma and COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

But often, it’s similar to the reasons people sign up for and train for a marathon, a long-distance bike ride, a warrior-type race or another physical challenge that pushes the boundaries of what they previously believed to be their physical, emotional and mental limits.

“When you reach the top, it’s an emotional release,” Allison explains. “It’s not something you can intellectualize. But just this emotional ‘Wow, look at what I achieved.’”

On a sunny morning, she says, you can see Mount Ranier, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and a 360-degree view of Portland and surrounds. The wind and cold is a reminder, she says, that “you work with the environment, work with the mountain to achieve the goal. You’re constantly adjusting, readjusting, anticipating, calculating what you need to do every step of the way.”

The Mount Hood climb (11,245 feet) is set for June 8-9; Mount Ranier, Washington (14,410 feet), is set for June 26-29 and July 10-13; Mount Baker, Washington (10,781 feet), is set for Aug. 4-6. For more: www.climbforcleanair.com.

@jenmomanderson

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