Corvallis Gazette Article on Miriam Richards Seeking to Be First Deaf 50 Completer

The Corvallis Gazette has an article on Miriam Richards seeking to be the first deaf 50 completer.

High aspirations: Miriam Richards’ success on Mount Rainier leaves her just one more to go

Gazette-Times reporter

Miriam Richards, who is attempting to be the first deaf person to climb the 50 highest peaks in the United States, stands on Mount Rainier during a recent climb.

Miriam Richards was out walking dogs recently when a man driving down the street recognized her, pulled over and jumped out of his vehicle.

Did she make it, he asked. Was she able to climb Mount Rainier?

The fact that someone would recognize her as the woman attempting to be the first deaf person to highpoint — climbing the 50 highest peaks in the United States — caught Richards by surprise.

Richards reached the top of Washington’s highest mountain on Aug. 19, her 49th highpoint, leaving only Denali — also known as Mount McKinley — left to climb. It took three attempts for her to claim Rainier, and she has a certificate of achievement and photos to show for it.

“Now Alaska’s what I have left,” she said through her friend and interpreter, Hilary White.

And while she’s not experiencing symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a painful and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, she’s preparing to make what would be the climb of her life next May.

There’s no doubt that she’s saved the most difficult climb for last. The two unsuccessful attempts at Rainier may have been stumbling blocks, but they are nothing compared to the crevasses, sub-zero conditions and 40-degree slopes she’ll encounter on the 20,320-foot ascent of Mount McKinley.

Under normal conditions, only about 60 percent of people who attempt McKinley reach the summit. There are added precautions the guide company will take because Richards is deaf. And she’s hoping the symptoms of MS will subside long enough for her to complete the climb.

She’s had two significant recurrences of symptoms this year, but she hasn’t been sick for several months. Before Rainier, she climbed in Switzerland to acclimate to the high altitudes and she took a trip with her mother to New Orleans. After Rainier, she won a sweepstakes for a three-day trip to an Arizona resort, where she was able to rest and relax for the first time.

Her doctor has warned her that stress can be a trigger for relapses with MS.

“She said, ‘You’ve really got to lessen your stress,'” Richards said, recalling her doctor’s advice.

But she doesn’t have long to prepare if she wants to attempt Mount McKinley in 2006. She needs to pay a $1,000 deposit with the guide company this week. She would need to raise the full amount by March. She’ll also need to do physical training — snowshoeing in the Cascades and swimming, and she’d like to do a high-altitude climb in Mexico, if she has enough money.

Richards will be climbing Denali with Kathy Cosley, who was her guide when she climbed Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.

Cosley will be coming to Corvallis to meet Richards and plan the Denali climb in November. Richards will have to pay a guide company $20,000, so that Cosley can be her guide. There’s no refund if they have to turn back due to inclement weather or if she is unable to complete the three-week climb.

Richards is seeking grants and working odd jobs to save money for her trip. She’s just completed her forklift driver certification course and is working at a winery in Monroe. She’s also dogwalking, refereeing soccer and teaching sign language courses at Western Oregon University.

She’s also been approached by a pharmaceutical company that makes drugs for people with MS about mentoring and speaking to people recently diagnosed with the disease. The company is considering offering Richards a job as a patient advocate, based on her perseverance in pursuing the highpointing goal.

“They wanted to know how she does all this,” White said.

Richards is hoping to be able to add Denali to that list.

“I hope my body will be physically ready,” she said.

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