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A Climb To Fight Cancer

Last winter, the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s Reach for the Peaks event sent cancer research and treatment supporters to Africa for a group ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

This weekend, the cause comes much closer to home.

A group of 25 will stay together at Mount Moosilauke’s Ravine Lodge tonight, then ascend the 4,802-foot summit on Sunday morning for the first Climb to Conquer Breast Cancer event.

With a minimum donation of $200 per climber, it’s the latest fundraising and awareness effort staged by the Friends of NCCC, which also helps facilitate the popular Prouty and Prouty Ultimate bicycle rides, plus several smaller, events annually that benefit the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center-based cancer research and treatment facility.

Friends of NCCC senior programs manager Rebecca Gray, a breast cancer survivor, is excited to be bringing the organization’s Reach for the Peaks initiative to a mountain that has long been associated with the Dartmouth region.

“A lot of people call it ‘Dartmouth’s Mountain,’ ” Gray said in a recent phone interview. “The Ravine Lodge is in Warren, New Hampshire, where Norris Cotton was born. Dartmouth (College) freshmen do trips up Moosilauke. The Dartmouth ski team used to ski there, so there are a lot of local connections. We’re really excited about bringing an event like this to Moosilauke.”

After checking into the Ravine Lodge late this afternoon, participants will watch a climbing safety and preparation presentation by Dartmouth Outing Club personnel and Dave Mengle, the manager of L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School in West Lebanon.

The group will later hear a talk from Dr. Jim DiRenzo, the director of NCCC’s comprehensive breast cancer research program.

“Jim will be talking about the latest developments in breast cancer research, and the things he and his team are working on to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer among survivors,” said Gray, who was first diagnosed in 1997 and has been cancer-free since 2003.

“One of the most terrifying prospects for survivors is that ‘Mr. C’ is sitting on our shoulder, saying ‘I’m going to be back.’ ”

When the Reach for the Peaks program was originally conceived, a planned ascent of Moosilauke was thought to be first on the docket. It was temporarily shelved in favor of last December’s Reach for the Peak Mount Kilimanjaro climb, guided by mountaineer Wed Chapman. The journey raised more than $35,000 for NCCC.

“We decided to launch the program with a true mountaineering trip, but the idea was always to have something at Moosilauke,” Gray said.

Sunday’s 7.2-mile round trip will send hikers up Moosilauke’s Gorge Brook Trail, a popular, meandering route with a total elevation gain of 2,550 feet. The way down will include the Carriage Road Trail and Snapper Trail before rejoining Gorge Brook.

To suit all ability levels, participants can join one of three experienced mountaineering guides, including Mengle and others who were part of last winter’s Kilimanjaro voyage.

“The groups will be broken down based on the experience and ability of the climbers,” Gray noted. “It’s not the easiest hike in the world, but it’s also not a very daunting climb for most people,” Gray said. “There will be a group going at a gradual pace, and another for people who might have more experience. We wanted to make sure it was accessible for everyone, including cancer survivors.”

Making the trip will be a group of former Dartmouth College field hockey players, who will participate in honor of the mother of a teammate.

Former Big Green goalies Meagan Vakiener and Jenna Stearns, along with former midfielder Kelly Hood, will climb in honor of Mary Meyer, who passed away from breast cancer earlier this month. Meyer is the mother of former Dartmouth teammate Liz Blanken.

Vakiener and Hood graduated from Dartmouth in 2012; Stearns and Blanken last spring. Vakiener will stay at the Ravine Lodge tonight and be joined by Stearns and Blanken for the climb Sunday morning.

“I wanted to show my support for Liz and her family,” Vakiener said in an email. “The climb gives (us) the opportunity to raise both awareness and some money for a great cause. ... The generosity from past and current players, coaches and parents for the cause has been overwhelming.”

Gray fully expects the Climb to Conquer Breast Cancer to become an annual event.

“The 25 who signed up is the perfect number to start out with,” she said. “It shows that people really like the idea, and we think it’s only going to grow in the future.”

More information on Climb to Conquer Cancer can be found at www.reachforthepeaks.org.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.