BraunAbility customers tackle challenging life obstacles every day, and we’re always inspired by their unique individual stories of how our wheelchair vans and wheelchair lifts help them achieve their dreams. Recently we heard another inspiring story, this one not from a customer, but from long-time BraunAbility dealer Roland Lamarche, President of Goldenwest Mobility in Spokane, WA.
Just over a month ago Lamarche led a team of climbers, without guides or oxygen, up Mt. McKinley (the highest point in North America) in Denali National Park, Alaska.
For six months the team trained on the Cascade Range in Washington and through winter storm conditions on Mt. Hood, Oregon. They climbed with packs loaded with over 70 lbs and hauled sleds with 50 lbs of supplies up 3,000-foot vertical climbs every other weekend. As a former director of the advanced climbing school for the Spokane Mountaineers , Lamarche knew the team had to be prepared for every possible circumstance on the mountain.
After a gentle first five miles, the snow began to deepen, and the sleds pulled a little heavier at 9,500 feet. As the air began to thin, the team rested 10 minutes for every hour of climbing. By the time they’d reached the aptly-named Windy Corner at 13,500-feet, they developed hand signals to communicate while scaling ice through 65-mph winds.
Lamarche began to suffer from a massive headache and blurred vision shortly after: high altitude sickness had struck. For 14 hours he rested in his tent while his teammates helped keep him hydrated and fed. The rest was imperative because the team was approaching one of the steepest and most dangerous portions of the mountain, a knife-edge ridge along Peter’s Glacier. At a slow, grueling pace, the team would take one step and then three breaths, they crawled to 17,200-feet. Another altitude-induced headache overcame the entire team. They needed to drink, but boiling water took 45 minutes.
The last leg of the climb up was especially grueling. Even with four layers of clothing, the team was frozen. Lamarche remembers trying to eat his protein bar which had turned rock-hard and drinking water that had turned to slush. His face stung, his eyes watered, and the low oxygen levels left the entire team panting.
Finally, they were standing at the highest point in North America at 20,320 feet. As his pictures prove, the view was pristine and uninterrupted for miles in every direction. Lamarche carried a BraunAbility flag with him and was sure to get a photograph with it. “BraunAbility has assisted Goldenwest in becoming one of the top dealers in the West,” he explained. “I was honored to be able to take them to the top of North America with me.”
Scaling down icy walls with heavy packs and increasing fatigue made the climb down even more treacherous than the ascent. Sadly, two doctors who decided to descend an ice Gully called the Messner Coulior misstepped and fell 3,000 feet to their deaths, close to the same time Lamarche’s team was climbing down.
The team took just 11 days to climb to the top of the “American Himalayas.” As the temperature warmed, the snow bridges and crevasses softened and made each step precarious. Even though they were stranded at a base on the landing strip for three days, they were happy to relax, enjoy some oxygen-rich air, and begin to process the unforgettable climb.
Lamarche will always have those memories and, luckily for us, these amazing pictures that will last forever. We’re proud of Roland and his team for his amazing accomplishment and give our sincere thanks for taking us to the highest point in North America with him!