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June 6, 2004

Storm puts deaf climber's quest on hold

From: Corvallis Gazette Times, OR - Jun 6, 2004


By Jeff Welsch
Sports editor

Deafness hasn't stopped Miriam Richards. Neither has multiple sclerosis.

Mother Nature, though, operates on her own terms.

The result last week was an aborted attempt by Richards to climb 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, one of three remaining mountains in her quest to reach the highest point of all 50 states.

Four straight days of blinding snow forced the 39-year-old Corvallis resident to wait at Camp Muir after climbing from Paradise. When the weather did break enough to contemplate a final ascent, the avalanche danger was deemed too great.

Earlier this week, one climber was killed in a fall and another had to be rescued. Nobody has summitted the mountain since May 24.

"Of course, I was so disappointed for bad weather," Richards said via e-mail Friday.

The disappointment was compounded by the forfeiture of $1,800, a high price for a woman limited to part-time work because of Medicare requirements and an unwillingness by companies to insure her.

The attempt, with interpreter M'Leah Woodard, wasn't a complete waste. Richards learned a new breathing technique, took a rope course and self-rescue, and she attended three workshops on the mountain.

Still, four days of 40 mph winds tried the group's patience, and the weather was especially trying for Richards. Because of her multiple sclerosis, she needs to use a toilet an average of a dozen times per day.

Bad enough that she had to leave the relative comfort of the tent and trudge into howling winds. Once outside, she had to remove her bibs and coat.

"Oh boy, no fun," she said.

On the final day, the group descended to Paradise with the storm still raging. A guide made Richards' task easier by carrying her backpack.

"I am a short lady with short legs," she lamented. "It's difficult for me to walk down with high snows with a backpack."

Richards said she hopes to save $1,000 for another attempt in September. Meanwhile, between odd jobs working as a carpenter, landscaper and pet babysitter to save money for ascents of Rainier, Wyoming's Gannett Peak and Alaska's Denali, she'll keep in shape this summer by climbing Oregon's Middle Sister and Washington's Mount Baker.

She estimates Gannett will cost $3,300, Rainier $1,200 and Denali close to $13,000, and she notes she is available this summer to anyone needing help with odd jobs at home or in the workplace.

Copyright © 2004 • Lee Enterprises