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OIA: Seeking Suffering and Enlightenment on Rainier

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Photograph courtesy David Weinstein

This week I sat down with my coworker David Weinstein, who—despite somewhat limited mountaineering experience—is attempting to scale Mount Rainier in a few weeks. Now, let me be perfectly clear: climbing Rainier is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve ever flown to Seattle, you’ve probably seen this massive mountain rising through the clouds—its domed, icy summit dominates the skyline at 14,411 feet. Rainier is the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48, making it a very technically challenging climb.

To reach the summit, you have to hike nearly 18 miles round trip; climb 9,000 vertical feet with a 40-pound pack; navigate rock walls, snow fields, crevasses, and steep ice; endure bitter cold and howling winds; and hope that the weather gods shine on you. Last year, only half of the people who attempted Rainier actually summited. It’s a mountain worthy of substantial respect. And it’s considered a suitable proving ground on the path to tackling higher, harder peaks.

David is heading to Rainier as part as part of the annual JanSport Rainier Climb Seminar. In 1972, the company started bringing employees, retailers, industry partners, athletes, and guides on an annual climb to gather product feedback. Now in its 40th year, JanSport’s expedition is the longest consecutive group climb on the mountain. Pretty cool.

So is David a supreme adventurer or a glutton for punishment? Well, as it turns out, he’s a little bit of both.

Avery Stonich: Just how much mountaineering have you done?
David Weinstein: Not much, actually. I’ve climbed about half of Colorado’s fourteeners. I’ve traversed plenty of snowfields, done some ice climbing, and have climbed couloirs. But I haven’t done a ton of technical climbing.

A.S.: What are you looking forward to most?
D.W.: Everyone here at Outdoor Industry Association connects with the outdoors in some way. That’s why we’re in this industry. Every place I’ve been in the world, there’s a different feel, a different flavor, a unique connection with the landscape—I find adventure in these connections. I’m excited to be reminded of that timeless feeling that comes from being out in the world in a new and beautiful setting.

A.S.: What are you doing to prepare—physically, mentally?
D.W.: I’m really looking forward to the physical challenge. It will be tough. But I definitely suffer from a masochistic love for exercise, so it should be fun. I‘ve been hiking a lot, carrying a 40-pound pack up some of our local peaks here in Boulder.

Mentally one thing I’ve been preparing for is the fact that I’ll be on a team, and you rise and fall with the strength of the team. I have to be prepared for possibly having to turn around because one of us is sick or hurt or can’t go on.

A.S.: Are you nervous?
D.W.: No, but it’s been said that all Coloradans underestimate Rainier. That’s definitely in the back of my mind. But I’ve got a pretty strong sense of will. I can put one foot in front of the other for a long time.

A.S.: What does being outdoors do for you?
D.W.: Well, I think of fly fishing because it’s one of my favorite activities. It’s a Zen state of mind. You’re so focused on weather, bug hatches, water levels, the landscape, time of day. It’s such a serene experience. Then you have those moments when all you can hear is the sound of a river. You feel remarkably connected and insignificant—insignificant compared to the longevity of our Earth. All trivialities of your life fall away completely. That feeling of inconsequentiality is one of my favorite parts about being outside.

A.S.: How will this expedition feed your sense of adventure?
D.W.: It’s taking me out of my element. I look forward to a new challenge and perhaps being a bit humbled. I’m excited about experiencing a new and wonderfully different place on the Earth. And it’s such a huge mountain. I’m excited to explore such a huge mountain.

A.S.: Do you see this as a gateway to doing bigger, harder climbs?
D.W.: I didn’t think so before, but I’m pretty excited about this. I’m anxious to learn how much I enjoy roping up, climbing with a team, and dealing with those kind of harsh elements. I think it has potential. I’ve been to Alaska enough to be very intrigued by Denali. I don’t have preconceived notions. Ask me again in a month!

A.S.: What do you do at Outdoor Industry Association?
D.W.: I’m the outreach and advocacy manager for OIA. I promote the economic benefits of outdoor recreation to government leaders, and work with the outdoor industry to engage on federal, state and local policy.

Here’s what most Americans don’t realize: We have an amazing national outdoor recreation system in this country. Our hope is that lawmakers and agencies begin to think about and manage public lands and waters as places for recreation experiences in order to enhance this system.

Historically our public lands have been managed for resource extraction and conservation. Recreation has always been secondary. But getting people outdoors inspires them to want to protect these natural places. And recreation has a huge economic benefit as well—to the tune of 6.5 million jobs and $289 billion in retail sales and services annually. We need help our elected officials and government leaders understand how important outdoor recreation is to our economy. This message is carried best by business owners, and it’s my job to recruit more of the outdoor business community to promote the link between ample, accessible public lands and waters and their businesses.

A.S: Are there similarities between your government policy work and mountain climbing?
D.W.: Of course. Moving government policy and climbing mountains both take a lot of preparation, dedication, and work. And the only way to reach your goal is to take it one step at a time. The outdoor industry has a great story to tell. We’re committed to keep plugging away to ensure that we protect America’s natural places and provide outstanding places for people to play.

And of course, with mountain climbing or public policy work, when you achieve your goal, there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment—and hopefully a lasting legacy for years to come.

A.S.: So there you have it. I think David’s pretty brave. Rainier will be quite an adventure. We’ll check back with him after the climb and let you know how it went. Stay tuned.