“Anna Soens received a GoHawkeye grant to help fund the purchase of the DynAccess sit ski she will use for the Climb On Project. Anna’s goal is to be the first female paraplegic to summit Mt. Hood and ski back down. The success will depend on a community of athletes and crew who will join her. The following article is her latest update about the expedition.” –Hawkeye
Written By Anna Soens
Two weeks ago, I finally told the world (aka the social media ether) that I plan to climb Mt Hood. I have been busy coordinating and planning the climb since March of last year, and somehow this fragile whisper of an idea has steadily gained momentum through the hot summer months and a drought winter. Training is in full-swing for a May(ish) ascent, and the crew and I are stoked.
For me, the hardest part of this project, hands-down, is the planning and prep that has been going into it. The actual climb will likely take place over 2-3 days, and will be grueling to the point of stupidity. But a lifetime of stubbornness and a slight affliction for suffering has prepared me for a long slog to the top. Organizing dozens of people –the climbing crew, mountain guides, engineers, filmmakers, fundraising organizers, gear supporters and donors– with endless emails and phone calls is what is firmly outside my comfort zone. It’s been humbling and rewarding; putting together something with so many moving parts is something I’ve never done before, and seeing it all come together is so gratifying. As it turns out, it takes a village to get me up a mountain!
In the last few weeks, the team and I have been working hard to train outside, and build a fundraising campaign in our “down time”. Since I don’t know of another para who has tackled a large alpine objective in the same style I am envisioning, there is not a lot of beta or precedent for me to build off of. Since I have some leg function (strong quads and hip flexors, weak or nonexistent everything else), it is my goal to walk/bear-crawl the entire ascent, and then monoski down (thanks to a GoHawkeye grant I received last year, I have my own Dynaccess Hydra monoski – and I love it!!). Techniques and equipment, unique to my level of mobility, are still being dialed in and refined through trial and error. I got a pair of lightweight A/T ski boots (which act as the leg braces I ordinarily use to walk) to climb in, and an engineer friend and I have been developing alpine crutches (essentially a hybrid of forearm crutches, ski poles, and ice axes). The specialized components and the customization and modifications needed for all this gear to work for me has been a fun test of problem solving and creativity, but the associated expenses build up fast.
We have thus launched a fundraising campaign to support the remaining expenses of the climb. I also hope to raise $10,000 for the local adaptive sports organization (Oregon Adaptive Sports) that I have been heavily involved with since I broke my back 2 years ago. The amount of support and energy that this project has generated, even in its infancy, has completely blown me away. I never expected so much. And it made me realize that this project has an incredible opportunity to channel such curiosity and enthusiasm towards the adaptive sports community that has helped shaped my life post-SCI into one chock-full of adventure, fulfillment, and happiness. When I first broke my back, I was so terrified that life as I knew it was over. I feared that the chapter of my life spent on mountains and trails had ended, and the rest of my life was to be written from the labyrinthine web of city sidewalks. But honestly, I am too busy today skiing and mountain biking and whatever else to entertain fears like that anymore. I am active, I am happy, and I am so thankful for adaptive sports organizations like the GoHawkeye Foundation and Oregon Adaptive Sports for helping me get to this place.
The last few weeks of training have been exhausting, with plenty more in store. But hiking/climbing in the middle of the woods, and earning my turns for the first time in my life, is a freedom I didn’t think I’d ever find again. I hope that this climb and this fundraiser brings the awareness and funds that will allow OAS to help another wave of athletes like me find themselves in the wilds when they didn’t think they could.