Climbing for a cause
Tonganoxie dentist finds exhilaration on Mt. Hood
Of all the things you could expect to find at the top of the 11,250-foot tall Mount Hood, a group of charitable dental professionals may be the last on your list.
This summer, Tonganoxie dentist and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie Grant Ritchey was one of more than a dozen other dentists from across the country to participated in the Climb for a Cause. The event helped raise money for dental relief efforts in Guatemala and Cambodia.
While wielding an ice pick instead of a dental pick doesn't seem a normal practice for a dentist, it fits right in with Ritchey's mindset.
"I've always been kind of an adrenaline junkie," Ritchey said "I joke with people and say, 'If you can't die while you are doing it, it's not very fun.'"
Ritchey's other thrill-seeking activities have included scuba diving, skiing and taking advantage of his pilot's license.
"I would do much more, but my wife won't let me," Ritchey joked.
Ritchey first became aware of the climbing group in 2001 when he saw an ad for it featured in a dental journal. By the end of that year, Ritchey would already have one mountain climb, Mount Adams in Washington state, under his belt. In 2003, Ritchey also conquered the almost 12,000-foot Mount Charleston in Nevada for the charity.
Daniel Bobrow, a Chicago dentist, started Climb for a Cause in 1998 as a way to combine his three passions: helping dentists, helping the public and climbing.
"It makes me feel good that we are making a difference and that my efforts are paying off," Bobrow said.
But it's not just personal satisfaction that keeps Bobrow arranging and participating in the climbs each year. He said it is also about the way it makes each participant feel after they reach the top.
"People grow from it," Bobrow said. "People get so much out of it they feel guilty about it. I don't know anybody who was sorry they did this."
Overall, the group raised more than $75,000 for the Mount Hood climb.
This year, instead of soliciting friends and family for donations like he has done in the past, Ritchey paid the $2,500 for his entry himself.
Ritchey said he tries to keep himself in shape by climbing as much as he can whenever he can, which is hard to do when "Kansas is pretty horizontal," and because "you can only climb in a gym so many times," he said.
His favorite place to climb is the Red Rock Canyons outside Las Vegas.
He said one of the best views was to be on top of the canyon and to see Las Vegas from what seems the middle of nowhere.
By July 15, he and the other climbers were ready to make their midnight ascent in the icy darkness to the top of Mount Hood, which is Oregon's highest peak.
The group started at midnight because the snow was frozen and not as slushy as it gets during the summer.
Although the climbers couldn't see far beyond the reach of their headlamps in the pitch black of the night, Ritchey and the others were treated to some marvelous sights whenever they looked straight up.
"The stars are beautiful," he said. "It's a crystal clear night and you can see a magnitude of stars you can't see in the city."
Around 8 in the morning, the cold and tired dentists started reaching the summit and again were treated to some magnificent views.
"By the time we started getting to the summit, it was daybreak up high on the mountain. The clouds are below you and the sun is coming up: it's pretty amazing."
By mid-afternoon, the entire group had reached the base of the mountain again minus a few toenails, which Ritchey said he could never avoid because of they way his foot hits his climbing shoes on the descent.
Ritchey said he would continue climbing with Climb for a Cause whenever he can and hopes to one day volunteer his time and talents overseas.
And even though he's already conquered several mountains, there are still a couple of places he wants to go, such as his personal climbing Mecca, Yosemite National Park.
"The climbs there are epic," he said.
He also has considered Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, as one of his goals, but he said it would take him a long time to consider it from a technique and experience standpoint.
"I just love being out in the mountains." Ritchey said. "That, combined with doing something challenging that involves a certain amount of risk, that combination is really rewarding. When you are done, you have a big sense of accomplishment. Plus when it's for a charitable cause, that's just icing on the cake."