Pair of Freeland residents will climb for cancer research

If there’s a mountain to climb, Mary Lou Harris will hike it.

Without any coordination between the two, so will Chris Kesler.

The two Freeland residents are participating in the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, which benefits the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Harris will summit Mount Rainier, all 14,410 feet of Washington’s highest peak, in August. Kesler, 47, will scale Mount Adams in July.

Kesler has no experience in technical climbing, which involves rope teams, crampons and ice axes. Basically, the journey is more than a simple hike through the woods. If successful, Mount Adams will be the tallest point Kesler has climbed.

“I have no experience with that. This is considered a novice climb, as far as the mountaineering part of it,” Kesler said.

“It’s a challenge, but I think it’s in my reach.”

The Bellevue-based company Kesler works for, Lydig Construction, has 22 climbers (including Kesler) representing the construction business in the climb. Kesler has a goal to raise $3,000 before the climb July 27-29. His company had a team already set, but one climber dropped out, so Kesler jumped in.

“I took a chance,” he said. “Even though I came on late, I wanted to do my part for the fundraising.”

“It seemed like a fairly substantial amount of money to raise.”

Led by Portland Parks & Recreation guides, the group Kesler is in will gain about 7,000 feet in elevation during a 6-mile hike. Since the first week of June, Kesler has continued his regular routine at the gym of running and weight lifting. He added some weight to a backpack to get his shoulders accustomed to an extra 40 pounds or so and walked steep slopes around South Whidbey.

For Harris, Mount Rainier’s white apex will be another worn tread in her well-worn boots. The 50-year-old has summited several rock and ice climbs in the United States and Canada. One of the last iconic peaks remained: Mount Rainier.

After three of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, Harris determined she would do more for cancer research. Harris committed to raising $5,000 from the 7,000-foot elevation hike. At the end of the trek, all Harris said she wants is to have done her part to help breast cancer patients.

“You can support your friend in emotional ways and in some practical ways, but there’s nothing you can do about the disease,” Harris said. “I thought, ‘Here’s something I can do.’”

“Fundamentally, it’s an important cause.”

The Mount Rainier group starts at the area of Mount Rainier National Park known as Paradise at about 5,400 feet above sea level, where it hikes to Camp Muir at 10,080 feet. Since joining the cause six weeks ago, Harris has trained twice per week, alternating between a hike with weights in her pack and a light-and-fast sojourn.

“It’s a technical climb, it’s not a hike. We’ll have our ice axes and crampons and all that jazz,” Harris said.

“Technically it’s not terribly difficult for somebody with experience like myself. Physically, it’s a demanding climb. There’s over 9,000 feet of gain from the cars to the summit.”

Donations for Harris’ venture can be made at Southern Cross Espresso stands in Clinton and Freeland, at Color Box Hair Salon in Freeland, at Landshapers in Freeland and online at

Already halfway to his goal, Kesler’s climb can be supported by going online and donating at

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