By: Willow Welter   |   Posted: July 14, 2017

Two years of intense training couldn’t prepare her for everything Mount Rainier had in store.

A Sponsor’s Harrowing Climb for Kids in Poverty

Two years of intense training couldn’t prepare her for everything Mount Rainier had in store.

Written by Willow Welter
Photography by Rebecca Boehm
Seeing a curved horizon from high up Mt Rainer

Rebecca’s team of climbers got so high up Mount Rainier that they saw a curved horizon.

Even as blowing snow and hunks of ice fell on 22-year-old Rebecca Boehm, her hopes never fell. This is where her faith had led her: to climb the most glacier-covered mountain in the contiguous U.S. to raise money for children living in poverty.

She thought of those children — like the ones she sponsors through Compassion and the ones she met on a mission trip to India — as she drove the spikes of her crampon-fitted boots into the snow on Mount Rainier. Although her layers of clothing now covered up the Bible verses she’d written on her arms with a Sharpie, she had memorized the Scriptures for encouragement.

The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

She would do this — even with nausea and numb toes.


Rebecca began sponsoring children through Compassion when she was 12 or 13 years old, raising the money through baby-sitting. Her drive to help children living in poverty continued into adulthood. After earning her associate degree, she took a mission trip to India and visited an orphanage, HIV clinic and impoverished villages there.

“I know it’s so cliché to say that it’s such a life-changing experience, but it’s such a different culture … it really widened my worldview,” Rebecca says.

But after she returned from her trip, she felt dissatisfied with her life in Washington, like she wasn’t doing enough to help others.

“When I got home, I just kind of hit that low of, What am I doing here?” she says.

Rebecca recalls that one day she was lying down praying when all of a sudden, “I sat straight up and said out loud, ‘I’m going to summit Mount Rainier as a fundraiser for children in poverty.’ And then I was like, Wait a minute. Who said that? Did I say that? I know nothing about climbing Mount Rainier.

In fact Rebecca avoided physical challenges. “I don’t think I ran a single mile in all of high school.” When she was a teen, her dad would suggest hikes they could take together, and she’d always try to talk him into shorter, easier routes.

But her prayer that day changed everything. She’d have to train her body and mind while getting the word out about her goal: to raise 10 cents for every foot of the 14,410-foot peak. She learned about a company that leads guided hikes up Mount Rainier and decided to plan the adventure for the month after she earned her bachelor’s degree in integrated strategic communication.

Two years later, between studying for her final college exams, she was seeking out the hardest hikes to tackle while wearing a 40-pound pack. She was finally ready.

Taking a selfie on her climb up Mt Rainier

Setting Out

When she stood in the parking lot beneath Mount Rainier with her climbing team on June 17, Rebecca’s eagerness silenced her fears of elevation sickness, cold and not reaching the summit. The first day of the three-day hike would lead her team of eight hikers and four guides to a base camp.

“I was not expecting how that day would go,” she says. “The weather really quickly deteriorated. … The wind was so strong it was blowing snow, so anytime you looked anywhere but [at] your boots, ice would just pelt your face.”

When they reached base camp, Rebecca’s clothes were soaked. Her guides advised her to sleep in them to dry them with body heat, so Rebecca put on several down jackets and four pairs of pants over the wet clothes. She awoke to news that snow had buried the high camp the guides had set up as their next stop, so the climbers spent an extra day at base camp while their guides went up to dig it out.

Hikers talking while at camp on Mt Rainier

Going Higher

When the guides had prepared high camp, they woke up the climbers for a midnight hike to get there. Although she was nauseated, Rebecca forced herself to eat instant oatmeal to prepare for the climb ahead.

The team hooked into the ropes that would help them catch one another if anyone slipped into one of Rainier’s many crevasses. About 35 feet of rope separated each climber. “When you’re that far away from each other, you kind of just feel like you’re all alone walking in the dark,” Rebecca says.

Because the snow was constantly covering the trail, the guides had to use their shovels and ice axes to create footholds for the climbers.

Rebecca says she realized that even in the extreme environment of an icy mountain, she had “more of the creature comforts than so many other people in the world. We have clean water, we have hot food every day. We have layers and layers of clothing.”

Peak of Disappointment

It was after reaching the top of a sharp ridge called Disappointment Cleaver that the guides broke the news: The team wouldn’t be able to summit. The storm was slowing them down too much, above-freezing temperatures were causing instability in the ice — it just wasn’t safe.

Some climbers returned to base camp, but the guides said the rest of them could go a little higher if they wanted. Rebecca kept climbing to 12,400 feet before turning around.

“The disappointment didn’t really set in until we were back down to base camp,” Rebecca says. On the upper mountain, she had been distracted by the scenery and focused on not falling. But she grew more discouraged as they hiked from base camp toward the parking lot, where she knew her family and friends were waiting.

“They’re all going to be asking, ‘How was the summit? Did you make it?’ Just the idea of telling everybody, ‘No, no I didn’t’ was really hard and really emotional for me.”

A team photo of climbers on Mt Rainier

Grounded in Faith

A month after her climb, Rebecca still feels disappointed about not summiting. “But in a way it really is a blessing because I feel like God is sheltering me from being able to say, ‘Look what I did. I summited this mountain.’”

Rebecca reminds herself that summiting wasn’t the real goal. Between many individual donations and a couple donating $2,000 that their company matched, Rebecca raised $6,620. Compassion will use that money where it’s needed most — whether it’s medical care for a sick child, education for moms of newborns, safe water at a Compassion center or any of the many unique needs of kids living in poverty.

Rebecca, who sponsors a girl in Indonesia and a boy in Burkina Faso, hopes her journey inspires others. “In a lot of my fundraising talks, I talked about the kids I sponsor,” Rebecca says. “My hope is that somewhere down the road that people will remember that, and it will make them want to sponsor.”