Rifle mountaineer reaches Baker summit
August 3, 2009
RIFLE, Colo. – Dehydrated and tired, Tim Danley took his final steps to the summit of Washington’s 10,781-foot Mount Baker on July 17.
It took him two years to get there. But the trip was worth every drop of sweat.
“It was almost a spiritual event being on that summit,” Danley said. “I was gassed. I had nothing left, but I wasn’t going to stop. I was going to the top.”
He’d made a promise to summit the mountain two years earlier. The trip was an expedition with a group called Alpine Ascents International, which raises money for cancer research for the Fred Hutchinson Center.
Danley’s promise was to take four prayer flags to Mount Baker’s summit. Each of the flags represents a person in Danley’s life who has, or is, battling cancer. Some are coworkers from Valley View Hospital, some are family members.
But the expedition was not a walk in the park.
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“Mount Baker is a mountain to be reckoned with,” Danley said. “It humbled me.”
Danley’s first attempt at Mount Baker was in June 2007, but he and his group were turned back with just 700 feet to reach the summit because of adverse weather conditions.
Standing at the base of the Roman Headwall, Danley knew that he was not going to make it to the summit. He knew the mountain had won the round. But he would return to finish the battle another day. It was a difficult decision to make, but something that Danley knew he had to do.
He returned to Colorado boiling with determination to reach the summit, the last 700 feet always in the back of his mind.
He continued to train for the expedition scheduled for July 2008, but that trip, too, was cut short because of a shoulder injury sustained three months before the trip.
Danley was ice climbing near Redstone in winter 2008 when he slipped and tore the muscles and tendons in one of his shoulders. His arm went numb. He dropped his ax, almost hitting his partner on the ground.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I knew I did something to my shoulder at that point.”
Though the day of climbing was over, he continued training for the expedition and tried to rehab his injured shoulder with physical therapy. However, the injury was too severe. About one month before the trip, he had to have surgery to repair his shoulder. At that point he knew he would not see the curve of the earth from Mount Baker’s summit that year.
“I knew that I was not going to be able to make the climb,” he said.
But his determination continued to boil as well.
After recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery, he began training again in late 2008.
On July 16, his gear was packed, he was healthy, and his feet were again at the trailhead to Mount Baker’s summit. He felt good. It felt familiar. And he was anxious to get to the top.
“It was hot as heck, and the humidity kicked my butt the whole time,” Danley said.
The group consisted of two other climbers, two guides from Alpine Ascents, and Danley. The group was about half the size of the one he was with two years earlier.
Day one the group hiked to camp one, hydrated and loaded up on carbs to prepare for the second day.
Day two was supposed to be relatively easy: Snow school to learn what to do in case of an emergency, and hike to camp two and set up for the summit push on day three.
That was the plan.
But the weather was just too good to pass up.
“We were stoked,” Danley said as he retraced his steps in his mind. “We were in good shape. The weather was perfect, so we said, ‘Let’s go for the summit now.'”
The group left from camp one at noon, and started their summit push one day early.
About five hours into the climb, Danley reached the Crater Rim for the second time in two years. He was going through his water and eating handfuls of snow to keep hydrated, and sweat poured off him.
Typically the summit push would begin before dawn. The group had underestimated the impact the afternoon heat would have.
“I had nothing left,” Danley confessed. “I’m feeling it. I’m nauseated, my head is killing me, my muscles spasmed because I have no fluids.”
But his promise weighed heavy, and his excitement took over.
“I felt like crap. I’m gassed, but there is this excitement because this is where they turned me around the last time,” he said. “If I take one more step, I’m somewhere where I’ve never been before.”
And that one step made all the difference. About 6:30 on July 17, Tim Danley stood on top of Washington’s Mount Baker. He held his hands up and let a string of prayer flags dance in the breeze.
“It was just amazing,” he said.
“Just being able to plant the flags that I’d wanted to plant for so long and keeping that promise to all those people, saying I’m going to do this for you.”
It took him two years, but he kept his promise.