Climbing with Impact: Kuhlman’s 2022 Mount Shasta Expedition with BCPP

In 2022, Osprey Dealer Services Supervisor, Erin Kuhlman, participated in the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners Climb Against the Odds, an annual fundraising event and mountaineering expedition that supports BCPP’s initiatives to prevent breast cancer.

This is not my first rodeo, as some would say. I am no stranger to climbing steep mountains or carrying a heavy pack on my back. I crave adventure and am always planning my next trip, whether hiking up a 14er in Colorado, on the bike in the high country or for a multi-day camping trip away from civilization.

This Colorado native was ready to cross the Mount Shasta climb and fundraising adventure off her list—and still the experience surprised, humbled and challenged me in ways I never expected.

A woman geared up with mountaineering gear holding trekking poles up along a forested trail Image via Erin Kuhlman

Organized by Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing and eliminating risk factors for the prevention of breast cancer, the Climb Against the Odds is a mountaineering expedition that calls upon volunteer climbers to raise funds leading up to a guided ascent of Mount Shasta, a 14,179-foot peak in Northern California.

After being welcomed as a participant and greenlit to go, I had five months to raise $6,000  for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, leading up to the climb itself. With the support of Osprey and our new family of brands, Hydro Flask and Oxo, I was able to exceed that goal and raise $7,056 by June.

One of our staff copywriters, Trevor Ogborn, wrote a beautiful article connecting my personal history with PFAS chemicals to BCPP's work to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals and reduce the incidence of breast cancer. The marketing team helped broadcast this story and my fundraising efforts to our wider audience and Helen of Troy set up an internal fundraising initiative that reached our associates across the globe.

Kuhlman’s Climb Against the Odds for BCPP

It was heartwarming and meaningful to receive generous donations from family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers alike. They often came with stories.

I had the opportunity to listen to survivors, people who lost loved ones and learn from the many personal reasons people felt moved to donate to my fundraiser. I wrote all those names on prayer flags and was determined to carry them to the top of Mount Shasta.

A close up of colorful prayer flags displayed among tree branches Image via Erin Kuhlman

With that support backing my journey, I boarded my flight to Medford, OR, and caught an Uber ride to the town of Mount Shasta, California. What an amazing first introduction to a brand-new state for me.

By the time I arrived at the resort and met my fellow climbers, 24 altogether, an understanding that this adventure was bigger than me—and not just about summiting a peak—began to really sink in. While I had my own reasons for taking on this expedition, for many of the climbers this journey was part of a very personal healing process. Meeting fellow climbers who were breast cancer survivors or had lost someone near and dear to them, my perspective shifted from “me” to “we”.

A group of climbers geared up and posing together Image via Erin Kuhlman

Ascent

As we laid all our gear out on the lawn outside the Shasta Mountain Guides shop, we met our climbing teams and guides and prepared our packs for the three-day journey on the mountain. This year the team would take the Clear Creek Trail route, located on the south side of the mountain where there is less snow and glacier climbing. Once packs and cars were loaded, we drove to the trailhead and began our hike to basecamp at 8,700 ft.

At camp, we set up our tents, refueled and prepared for a snow school lesson from our guides on a nearby glacier. We learned how to properly hike in crampons, use an ice axe and self-arrest—a first for many of us. Once we were done playing in the snow, we had an early bedtime in preparation for a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call for our summit push.

Sure enough, 2:30 a.m. was right around the corner and I found myself bundled in all my layers, trying to save all my heat from my sleeping bag. I stepped outside the tent into the freezing air and watched the bobbling headlights as the other tent sites got ready to head up the mountain.

We almost didn't need our headlights since a full moon lit up the hillside as we embarked.

Two climbers walking on trail in the dark with headlamps lighting the way Image via Erin Kuhlman

The terrain was covered with pumice, a record of Shasta’s volcanic past, with a mix of soft, ashy dirt in areas. The rock was familiar underfoot, offering progress with each step. The ashen soil, on the other hand, resisted, loosely rejecting our attempts to gain foothold as our feet slid backward. Two steps forward, one step back.

As dawn approached and the sun began to peek over distant horizons, we made our own approach to our singular glacier crossing. Spanning about 200 yards across, we put the skills we used in snow school to the test.

After crossing the glacier, we ascended steep switchbacks like a conga line at 11,000 feet. By this point, many of my fellow climbers began experiencing the symptoms of altitude sickness or the discomfort of blisters developing on their feet. The guides quickly orchestrated the “Shasta Shuffle” using their radios and forming teams to send down the mountain, their journey ending for safety.

My team pressed on.

At 12,800 feet we reached a point called Mushroom Rock, where the guides once again assessed the condition of each climber before the final push to the summit. Only myself and one other climber from my group of seven were cleared to continue as more fell ill with altitude sickness and pre-hypothermia.

A group of climbers trekking up a snowy mountainside, all clipped together to a rope. Image via Erin Kuhlman

We climbed the steep headwall to the summit and the winds began to pick up significantly. Of all the 14ers I've climbed, this was the worst wind storm I've ever been in. It took all my strength to take each step forward, and I eventually reached a point where I started to crawl to reduce the wind resistance from my torso. My guide pulled the other climber and me behind a rock to shelter from the wind as we waited for five other climbers and four guides from the other remaining groups to find shelter with us. As we huddled behind the rock at 13,700 feet, the guides assessed the situation and made radio calls to gather further information. They ended up calling off the rest of the climb due to high winds, which we later learned were sustained at 60 mph and gusting at 100 mph above 12,000 feet.

As much as my heart wanted to continue on, I’m not going to lie; I was happy they made that call for us. I knew we were in dangerous conditions.

The climb back down was perilous, and we were knocked around left and right by the relentless wind. On top of that, the rock beneath us was loose and the snow had softened from the sun's rays, making every step slippery. I am happy to report everyone made it down the mountain safely to basecamp and out of the damaging winds.

This climb was a team effort. I knew I was representing something greater than myself: representing my Osprey Team, my new Helen of Troy family, my donors and their experiences with breast cancers, and a more significant message that we can do better to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. I can't thank everyone enough for the love and support throughout this journey, and I hope we can send another climber next year to have this same experience—without the wind.

A woman holding an Osprey flag with Mount Shasta in the distance Image via Erin Kuhlman