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Inaugural Big Expedition for Cancer Research Encounters Mountain As Challenging As Finding a Cure for Cancer

SEATTLE, July 7 /PRNewswire/ -- When Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center challenged a team of elite climbers to scale an unclimbed mountain, the endeavor was intended to mirror the efforts of researchers to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death. The team of four professional mountaineers on the Big Expedition for Cancer Research has recently returned from Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve after reaching the 7,800-foot level of an unclimbed, unnamed peak, as part of a national awareness campaign for the importance of cancer research.


This groundbreaking effort was more like cancer research than anyone expected it to be. What the team found as they ascended the 8,300-foot peak, unseen from the ground in 35 years, was a mountain that was not ready to be conquered. Afterward, expedition member Matt Farmer, 33, of Seattle, said of the up-close encounter with the mountain, "The summit pyramid had looked majestic and solid granite from a distance, but in reality, it was like stacks of china teetering in the wind ... just a big pile of rocks. Every step was a balancing act. We were comfortable that (turning around) was the right decision. We had met the challenge and found it to be too daunting for us to return safely if we advanced any further."

Chief Ranger Randy Larson, along with other park officials, met with the team to debrief when they returned to the Glacier Bay Lodge before heading to the Lower 48. "This is an excellent team," he said. "Their judgment was solid and the expedition has given us valuable new information about the conditions and geography in a very remote area of the park that hasn't been seen from the ground in over 30 years. I'm very pleased to have them back safely."

This was a new and refreshing type of expedition. There were no preconceptions. The team, selected by some of the nation's most respected and celebrated mountaineers, was not merely "bagging" another peak. They went on an adventure into the unknown that had everyone on the edge of their seats and, when the team determined that there was too much risk in the last 500 vertical feet, they received accolades for their smart thinking and sound judgment in one of the world's most remote locations.

"The climbers are to be congratulated for going so far under trying conditions but especially for putting safety first. It is a principle that governs each of our clinical trials," said Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., president and director of the Hutchinson Center. "We are proud of the team for their remarkable challenge of this unclimbed mountain."

Reaching the summit was, indeed, the objective of the effort, supported by more than 15 of the outdoor industry's leading companies. It was, however, not expected at any cost. Cancer research is a long, arduous road and, as Hutchinson Center epidemiologist David Thomas, Ph.D., said afterward, " ... in cancer research, things do not always turn out as expected or as one would like. I am very pleased that the four climbers used good judgment and did not take unnecessary risks to get to the summit." On all counts, the measure of the Big Expedition is in the advancement of the cause.

Thousands followed the Big Expedition online via the Hutchinson Center Web site and in media reports.

The adventure began three weeks ago when Farmer and team mates Dawn Glanc, 33, of Bellingham, Wash.; Kevin Mahoney, 39, of Madison, N.H.; and Bayard Russell Jr., 31, of Madison, N.H., arrived in Reid Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. The effort had been 18 months in the planning, with the complete support of the National Park Service.

The Big Expedition for Cancer Research is a concerted effort to draw the public closer to the cancer research under way at the Hutchinson Center and around the world. The Center initiated this project to bring a new awareness of the long and difficult road to find a cure for cancer.

As the team members now disperse to various places around the country where they will get back to the professional guiding that is their livelihood, their individual recollections of the Big Expedition will be posted at .


About the Big Expedition for Cancer Research

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center launched the Big Expedition last fall to create public awareness around the monumental task of eliminating cancer. "The scaling of an unclimbed mountain is a good metaphor for cancer research because the challenges are unknown until you are in the middle of it and no one wants to turn back," said Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., president and director of the Hutchinson Center. "Through the efforts of these professional mountaineers, we hope to build awareness for the critical need to support cancer research."

About the Big Expedition's Mountaineering Advisory Committee

This group of renowned mountaineers, expedition leaders and adventurers, consists of Phil and Susan Ershler, the first couple to climb the world's "Seven Summits," the highest peaks on each of the seven continents; John Harlin, a noted climber and editor of American Alpine Journal; Eric Simonson, leader of the historic Mount Everest expedition that found the body of George Leigh Mallory; John Roskelley, a public servant, conservationist, author and revered American Himalayan climber; Ed Viesturs, one of America's leading high-altitude mountaineers; and Jim Wickwire, a climbing legend and Alaska mountaineering expert who was the first American to climb K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth.

About the National Park Service

The National Park Service cares for national parks with a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural and recreational sites across the nation. The system is designed to preserve, protect, and share, the legacies of the national parks. The American system of national parks was the first of its kind in the world, and provides a living model for other nations wishing to establish and manage their own protected areas.

About Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists and humanitarians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Our researchers, including three Nobel laureates, bring a relentless pursuit and passion for health, knowledge and hope to their work and to the world. For more information, please visit


Dan McConnell

DDB Seattle


SOURCE Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
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