Don Pullum, Jr. '81 navigating the glaciered Mt. Rainier.
By Don Pullum, Jr. '81
For many of us, the start of a new year is accompanied by a commitment to a personal goal and the appeal of new beginnings. All too often, those goals are seen as insurmountable mountains. But as demanding as change seems, it is definitely a mountain that can be conquered. I speak from experience.
Sitting on the icy ledge of Mt. Rainier two miles above reality, I marveled at the fact I was actually there. I smiled broadly and sucked in the frigid air while bracing in the strong mountain winds. Here on September 13, 2012, Don Pullum was actually near the top of Mt Rainier in Ashford, WA!
I had been climbing a couple of days on the one of the largest and most glaciered volcanos in the world. Far from my home in the South and miles from my beloved South Carolina, the views were spectacular. In the distance Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt St. Helens peeked above the Cascade Mountains. It was breathtaking. Yes, it was me, sitting there in my bright yellow Limestone Saints cap and blue Limestone colored jacket.
One year earlier, I had been much heavier and on medication for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Depression and self-doubt had been constant companions since childhood. Changes were in order. I needed a goal, I needed direction. The exorbitant expenses required to climb Mt. Everest meant that peak was out of the question and climbing Mt. McKinley would take three weeks that I did not have. After a great deal of research, I discovered that Mt Rainier had all the goods in terms of time required, difficulty level, height, (14,410 feet), and danger. It was the extreme reach I was looking for. This would define and change me forever. The game was on and I dedicated myself to making the best attempt I could possibly make.
To climb this glaciered goliath, I embarked on three months of heavy training. Every morning I would rise and get on the bike for a pre-dawn ride or hit the treadmill in the gym. Every weekend was spent on some dusty, lonely mountain trail. At first, I was gasping, wheezing, clutching my chest; quite often I just felt lucky to get halfway through it. Gradually, each day, my lungs were better, and there was progress. There had developed a toughness I had never known before. I had worked hard for this chance and was ready to test my mettle on the great mountain.
I was within one thousand feet of Mt. Rainier's summit before succumbing to altitude sickness, yet I received so much more than the summit could have ever given me. For the rest of my life, I will have the knowledge that I once had the courage to reach for the dream. I found out after months of hard work striving for the goal of conquering a great mountain, the mountain wasn't the true conquest. While working so hard, I regained self-respect, and reacquired my child-like belief that if I really want to, I could truly do anything. I didn't conquer Mt Rainier. I conquered something far more precious. I conquered me.
You see, you don't need a mountain to reach greatness. You just need a dream and the courage to pursue it. On one of my training hikes I came across the saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." That's the secret, Saints. Any one of us can do it, just by taking that single step.