A View from the Top

The OpenLink Bulletin – July 2016

In early June 2016, five OpenLink employees braved the single digit temperatures and wintry conditions of Mt. Rainier, an active stratovolcano just outside of Seattle, Washington. Kohl Brinkman, Jake Decker, Ralph Guerrero, Matt Lehto and Dirck Lowe embarked on a three day journey to summit the 14,416 foot mountain, the highest of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest. Enduring months of diligent training and preparation, the group worked together to bring out the best in each other as they took on what they claimed to be one of the most mentally and physically challenging experiences of their lives.

In the week leading up to their climb, declining temperatures and fresh snow made for treacherous climbing conditions and an increased avalanche risk. No other climbers summited Mt. Rainier in the five days leading up to the OpenLink group’s attempt due to weather. Nevertheless, the team climbed to the lower camp on Day 1 as the storm blew through, each carrying around 50 pounds of gear. On Day 2, they climbed on to the high camp, and, by that evening, the wind had calmed.

Rising at midnight on Sunday morning, the group ate breakfast and packed up. With an experienced guide team leading them, assessing both the weather and the terrain, they began their summit around 2 AM. The guides were critical to the success of the final push. The storm had left behind lots of fresh snow to plow through, making the already tough terrain even more challenging.

Ralph Guerrero, OpenLink Engagement Director, said, “When the skies cleared, our guides had to literally shovel out a new path for our team because of all the snow that had fallen. The risk of an avalanche and slipping on the soft snow down the mountain were high. It was more technical than I expected because we had to hammer in the stakes to rope into as we were going up.”

All agreed that the last push to the summit challenged them both mentally and physically. Each one focused on every single step for the last six hours. Matt Lehto, OpenLink SVP of Sales, said that they faced a variety of tough challenges. “We were operating in the dark with just our headlamps once we left the high camp until the sun came up. We dealt with hunger, dehydration, bitter cold and thin air. When you’re up there, you’re experiencing so much that you’ve never experienced before...and all at the same time. It was mentally intimidating at times.”

Despite the challenges, the team encouraged each other with music. “On the upper mountain, a few of us dug into the music files and were singing some of the classics, like Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ It was corny, but it seemed to fit. Some Willie Nelson to appease the Houston contingent, and I threw in ‘Sweet Caroline,’ so as not to forget about New England,” Account Manager, Kohl Brinkman, said.

Once they reached the summit, the team was elated to have achieved their goal but completely exhausted. Lehto said, “You also realize that now you’ve got to get off the mountain,” which is another eight hours of climbing. They spent about 20 minutes at the summit, taking pictures and braving the 10 F and 35 mph wind conditions while soaking in the view.

The team summited and descended all in the same day. Each team member made sure to pack essential items that would get him through the trek back down the mountain. “Swedish Fish…that is my crux when it comes to outdoor activities,” Dirck Lowe, Director of System Solutions, said. “They are in my pocket, and it’s just a little sugar burst.”

While it’s only been a few weeks since their trek, they are already making plans for their next adventure together. Jake Decker, Senior Sales Executive, said, “When you’re suffering out there, having a team around you really helps. We’ve accomplished this rare goal that not a lot of people have achieved, kind of like a brotherhood. Having the rest of the team there was key - I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself.”