Upward and onward | SteamboatToday.com

Upward and onward

Rosanne Iversen summits Mount Shasta with Breast Cancer Fund

Melinda Dudley

— Most anyone would consider climbing a fourteener a success. But for Dr. Rosanne Iversen, the real success on Mount Shasta wasn’t reaching the peak.

“It wasn’t just about summit day,” she said Saturday. “It was about the journey.”

In the spring of 2007, Iversen had her life derailed by a breast cancer diagnosis. Now in remission, she threw the past six months of her life into training and fundraising for Climb Against the Odds 2008, a trek up California’s Mount Shasta with 35 breast cancer survivors and supporters.

The climbers raised more than half a million dollars for the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization which works to identify and eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer while raising awareness of the disease and making it a public health priority.

At a Jewish service Friday, Iversen’s rabbi congratulated her on her return to Steamboat, saying this time last year, everyone was consumed with worry for her health.

“Now, everyone can hear how I’ve taken a negative situation and turned it into something positive,” she said.

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Mount Shasta

Iversen and the rest of the climbers spent several days getting to know each other in California before taking their first steps up the mountain.

The climbers and their families gathered June 15, each planting a flower seed in honor or memory of someone who has gone through breast cancer. Iversen cried when one of her two sons announced he was planting his seed for her, in hopes that she doesn’t have a recurrence.

The climbers set out the morning of June 18 and made their camp at Hidden Valley, an elevation of about 9,200 feet. Iversen carried close to 150 prayer flags on her trek, and the climbers all participated in a prayer flag ceremony at their base camp before summit attempts.

“I was pumped. There was a huge energy with the whole group,” Iversen said. “They say Mount Shasta is a spiritual mountain, especially when you’re with a group like this instead of on a personal climb.”

Summit day

Mount Shasta looms so large that at sunrise, its shadow covers the whole valley below, Iversen said. But Climb Against the Odds 2008 didn’t wait for the benefit of daylight June 19. The climbers rose at 1:30 a.m. on summit day.

“Nobody ever slept,” Iversen said. “I was never tired.”

For their final ascent, the trekkers split into seven teams of climbers and guides, all roped together for their icy climb up the West Face and Misery Hill.

“There was a full moon, which was great, but we all still had our headlamps on,” Iversen said. “You didn’t stop for too long, because you’d get too cold.

“We’d have these 50 and 60 mph wind gusts, and it’s all loose rock, and you’ve got crampons on – it’s all you can do not to topple over,” Iversen said.

When you’re roped in, you spend the whole time staring at the boots of the climber in front of you, trying to keep in time with the group, Iversen said. As a result, she didn’t see much of the scenery on Misery Hill, and before she knew it, they’d arrived at Mount Shasta’s summit, which rises out of the ice and snow “like a pinnacle of rock,” she said.

Upon arrival, Iversen perched in a chair-like rock formation near the summit’s climber register and took it all in.

“I just sat and looked around – it was this moment where everything looked so beautiful,” Iversen said. “It’s the first time you haven’t been in motion for awhile.”

The return

Leaving the summit and returning to Hidden Valley is much faster than the way up. While you still have to climb down much of the way, glissading – which Iversen described as “butt-sliding with your ice axe” – cuts down on time and amps up the pure fun factor.

Friends and family of the climbers had a pizza party on summit night and made handmade signs to welcome everyone back to the trailhead.

“Peter made one for the guides, which is so Peter,” Iversen said of her 9-year-old son.

The physical toll of Mount Shasta was not the hardest part of the experience for Iversen. Rather, it was the emotionally taxing debriefing with her fellow climbers the day after they reached the summit.

“You wanted to be able to leave that baggage behind – the emotional trauma and issues that inspired everyone to do this,” Iversen said.

The climb and the process were life-changing, but the most rewarding part of her experience is the lifetime bonds she made with her fellow climbers, Iversen said.

That sentiment is shared by Patty Duke, who climbed Mount Aconcagua in the Breast Cancer Fund’s inaugural mountain expedition in 1995. Duke, who co-founded SmartWool in Steamboat Springs, battled breast cancer in the early 1990s.

“We were all women with the same disease and the same goals,” Duke said. “Hearing each individual story, we just cried and laughed. We’re all still very close.”

Since “Expedition Inspiration” in 1995, three members of the group have been lost to cancer.

“It’s sad, but it’s real,” Duke said.

The day after returning to Colorado, Iversen already was back at work – she runs a family practice in Steamboat Springs – and back to the grind. And she isn’t looking to take it easy – Iversen is training for the Triple Bypass Bicycle Tour from Evergreen to Avon on July 12.

Though Iversen had always depicted Climb Against the Odds 2008 as her “last step” to getting over breast cancer, she says she will always keep her experience with the Breast Cancer Fund with her and continue to be involved. Nonetheless, she’s looking forward to a return to a relatively normal life.

“Maybe I’ll just have some time to pull the weeds in my garden,” Iversen said. “Maybe I’ll grow some more hair.”

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

Uphill battle

June 15

As part of her recovery from breast cancer, local physician Rosanne Iversen joins Climb Against the Odds 2008, a group of 35 cancer survivors and supporters who intend to summit Mount Shasta to raise money for research by the Breast Cancer Fund

June 22

Iversen, a novice mountaineer, throws herself into training and fundraising for her arduous climb; a closer look at research into the environmental causes of breast cancer


Iversen and a team of 35 breast cancer survivors and supporters from across the country summit Mount Shasta