"Please clearly understand that mountaineering is inherently a hazardous sport. You are choosing to engage in an activity in which participants have been injured and worse."
It's the "and worse" that worries many.
However, this disclaimer did not curb the enthusiasm of 12 adventurers. Their mission is to raise awareness and funds for the Tulsa Zoo's Nature Exchange program, and to do so by surviving a mountain climb.
You probably have a few questions. What's the Nature Exchange? What does this have to do with sports? How can I sign up? Did I cover all the questions? Great--answers to follow.
"We didn't call it One Wild Walk in the Park," laughed Tulsa Zoo Friends Executive Director Keegan Young. He accurately titled the fund raising expedition "One Wild Challenge."
The first trek two years ago took six courageous climbers to Mount Rainer. Three reached the summit. A year ago nine participants tackled the Grand Teton in Wyoming. Four ascended to the summit. Of the 12 this year, how many will complete the challenge?
"Even with our members that didn't reach the summit, there was not any ill feeling. They completed 95 percent of the challenge. They had raised money for the zoo," said Young.
This year's challenge takes them to California. The obstacle they face? Mount Whitney; the 14,505 foot elevation makes it the highest point in the contiguous United States.
Why not just have bake sales or a fun runs?
"Mountain climbing was a passion of mine first of all. It was very unique. When we do things at the Tulsa Zoo I'm looking to break out of the black-tie chicken and rice fundraiser," he explained.
Each climber raises $5,000 for the journey. Thanks to sponsors such as World Travel Service, Saint Francis Health Zone, New Heights Rock Gym, Sun and Ski, The North Face, Black Diamond and Blue Frog Interactive, $3,500 goes directly to the Nature Exchange program.
The ultimate goal for next year is to eliminate overhead costs through sponsorship. "Every dollar that climbers raise would go directly to the Nature Exchange," said Young.
He would like it to grow to 20 climbers next year. They plan to return to Mount Rainer. The first two years of the OWC funded the sea lion exhibit.
The daring dozen depart Tulsa for the journey on Aug 3. They return home on the 9th. Your typical vacation getaway. Of course you are expected to climb not one, but two mountains this year.
After arriving in Vegas they will van through Death Valley to Whitney Portal Campground (8,640 feet). The following two days entail hiking to Iceberg Lake (12,400 feet) and additional training.
Now the fun starts. August 6th sees the gang tackle Mount Whitney from three different angles. "It's a technical climb. The team has been at the rock gym for the past several months," said Young of their training for such a daunting task.
The group of 12 is now split. Their path to the summit depends on the level of expertise. The ratio of guides to climbers is two to one. "We contract with a guide service. I don't just take them up and lead them," laughed Young.
The following day they take a crack at Mount Russell. Same deal. Three different teams led by professional guides.
Finally, they hike out of the wilderness. They treat themselves to a hotel bed and dinner. You know... the vacation portion.
You Can Do It
"That's why we do it," Young said referring to raising money and awareness for Tulsa's Zoo. He didn't anticipate the other benefits. The uniqueness factor is off the charts.
"There aren't a lot of mountaineers in Tulsa. It was something that really set us apart," he continued.
They didn't take into account the friendships and bonds that would develop until after the Mount Rainer climb. "You really are tied to one another in a literal sense. There's a trusting friendship that comes out of that."
Who is eligible? Anyone willing to max their physical conditioning. It's too late to sign up this year, although your donations are still accepted.
If you think you have what it takes to scale a mountain, this is for you. Much of the equipment is donated by local sponsors. You can rent as well. Then again, you may end up with a new hobby like Brooke, Preston, Dylan and Hayden. That would be Young's wife, two sons and daughter.
Food and water are imperative. Beef jerky, granola bars, dried fruit and dehydrated meals are popular on the climbs. "Personally, I'm a fan of real food. When I go out on (a climb) my last stop will be at the deli. A meat and cheese sandwich or a couple and as long as it will last," said Young.
Everyone knows the importance of water. Forcing yourself to take breaks and hydrate is the difficult task. Water is available in the mountains. But, sadly, it has been contaminated during the years. Filtration or treating it with iodine to purify it is a must. "Climbing with a guide is very regimented," said Young. At least the guide will enforce hydration. And keep you alive.
Show me the Money
What is the Nature Exchange and why are these climbers asking for donations? The Nature Exchange is located across from the Tulsa Zoo's train station. It used to be the old zookeeper's house.
"It's a place for kids to come in and learn about nature in their backyard. Part of our mission is to connect kids to the wildlife. Most kids see meat at the grocery store and don't realize it comes from a cow," explained Young.
Children find items in nature. They bring the items in to the zoo. The item could be a fossil found during a camping trip or a pinecone in the back yard. They earn points based on the rarity of the item. Additional points can be earned by superior knowledge of the item.
The kids interact with a member of the staff and apply the scientific method. The Nature Exchange program also visits many second and third graders. Field trips to the zoo ensue.
Currently, the zoo staffs the building four days a week - Thursday through Sunday in the afternoons. The money raised should go a long way toward opening the doors on a regular basis.
For more information on this challenge or to make a donation visit www.onewildchallenge.com.
As overwhelming as mountain climbing seems, it's not impossible. The scariest moment for a new climber? Nothing, other that what's obvious, you're climbing a mountain.
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