Thomas Denham was looking for a little adventure.
After dangling inside of a 30-foot crevasse on Mount Rainier and climbing his way out, he decided that he had finally found what he was looking for and then some.
That was just one part of his weekend in May that included getting his Adirondack 46er Award and marching in the Delmar Memorial Day Parade.
Denham, a managing partner of Careers in Transition, LLC and a Delmar resident, has been an avid hiker for nearly 30 years. He decided it was time to kick it up a notch.
So I turn 40, and I decided I need to take this to the next level,` he said. `So I go to the Adirondack Mountain Club Winter Mountaineering School, and that gave me some good skills.`
Enjoying his new hobby as a mountaineer, Denham helped raise $4,000 for an organization called Summit For Someone, which is a type of urban Fresh Air program that takes kids on weeklong backpack trips around the country.
For his efforts, Denham was given a guided climb of Oregon’s Mount Hood, which rises more than 11,200 feet above sea level. Hood is the highest mountain in Oregon, so eyeing Mount Rainier’s even taller white summit from his lofty vantage point, Denham naturally figured it was time to climb Washington’s highest mountain.
`I climb that [Hood] successfully, and in the distance I can see Mount Rainer,` Denham said. `After that I come home and I tell my family, ‘I’m going to do this.’`
With the blessing of his 9-year-old daughter, who attends Clarksville Elementary and has climbed 47 mountains with him since she was 3, Denham set off on his goal.
`I train like crazy; I’m walking the streets of Delmar with a 60-pound pack on my back and everyone’s looking at me,` he said. `A police officer even stops me, but didn’t ask to see my ID or anything. His exact words were, ‘What are you training for?’`
Denham continued training and then contacted Alpine Ascents International after looking through some brochures to guide him up the 14,411-foot summit of Mount Rainier.
`So I train and I train and I train, and I fly to Seattle and we fly into SeaTac and the airplane turns towards the terminal and it’s the first time that I see this monster of a mountain,` he said. `And I say, ‘holy mother of God, what have you gotten yourself into.’`
Denham described the Alpine Ascents crew as `spectacular` with a 2-to-1 ratio of climbers to guides in the group of 12 that headed up Mount Rainier.
`These people have this down to a science,` he said. `It was just spectacular. You’re above the clouds and you’re having a great time. You could see Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams and Mount Hood from there.`
The ascent was `much steeper than it looks in the pictures,` according to Denham, as they headed to the 1.3 miles of ice on the southeast flank of the mountain called the Cowlitz Glacier. The group prepared to cross the Cathedral Gap.
`We’re going along, and I didn’t know it, but we were going over a crevasse and I don’t know how much snow was there was but it was weak,` he said.
Denham, a fellow mountaineer named Mike (the hikers on the trip all went by first names) and their guide, Kajsa Krieger, unknowingly climbed over the crevasse last.
`They had all gone over this crevasse and weakened it, and three days of awesome sunshine was not helping,` said Denham.
Krieger made it over first with Denham and Mike following behind when Denham found himself in a situation that some mountaineers never get out of.
`Out of nowhere, it just gives way like a trapdoor,` he said. `I can see a crack in the front and then within a nanosecond I was completely engulfed in all this snow. It was like jumping off the roof with tons of snow and not knowing what to do.`
Denham said he knew he was roped, but with his guide already ahead and his climbing partner behind, he didn’t know too much else. To the relief of his companions, the flashes of his digital camera told them he was okay.
`So here it is, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and I just plunged into a crevasse and after about half an hour I’m bored out of my skull. I thought to myself that nobody in Delmar is going to believe that this happened so I whipped out my digital camera and the other climbers on the surface could see this.`
Nervous about being pulled up the weakened crevasse opening and yanking chunks of ice and snow onto his head, Denham said he knew he had to climb his way out. A guide lowered another rope to hook onto and sent down an ice axe to Denham.
`As soon as I got that ice axe, I knew I was out of there. I was like, ‘I’m so out of here,’ and it was at that point that it became fun,` Denham said.
Shouting up to the guides and gathered climbers, Denham said everyone was relieved he wasn’t trapped.
Upon reaching the top of the 30-foot crevasse unscathed, Denham held up his ice axe in the air to shouts and whoops.
`It was like being in the worst car wreck you’ve ever been in and walking away without a scratch,` he said.
After he climbed out, he took some time to ponder the event.
`I sat on my pack and I looked up at the upper portion of the mountain,` Denham said. `I just kind of was in the moment, realizing I almost lost my life, and I have a 9-year-old daughter and I have a lot to lose, but I also have this drive to be in the mountains and have a beautiful experience.`
Then Denham headed back to his busy Delmar life with just another mountaintop under his belt ` well, almost.
`I got onto a plane at 8 o’clock the next morning and I was home here in Delmar by 7 o’clock Saturday night. Sunday I went to the Methodist Church for church services and then I drove to Lake Placid to get my Adirondack 46er Award. The next day I marched in the Memorial Day parade.`