The ultimate team-building exercise? Climbing a mountain for cancer research

This Washington state construction company is raising money for science, nearly 11,000 feet up
Two dozen people in mountaineering gear stand in snow with a banner that reads "Climb to Fight Breast Cancer" and carries the logos of various sponsors. Mountains are visible in the background.
Members of Lydig Construction's Climb to Fight Cancer team at the Mount Adams summit in 2012. Photo courtesy of Chris Kesler / Lydig Construction

When you visit the website of Lydig Construction, the first thing you see isn’t information on the company’s building expertise. It isn’t one of their recent projects modernizing a fish hatchery, constructing a school or building a research laboratory.

It’s a mountain.

“Lydig employees are climbing Mt. Baker to support the fight against cancer,” says the text overlain on the looming, screen-dominating peak. “Learn how you can help.”

For the second time, the Washington-based company is fielding a large team for the Climb to Fight Cancer, which harnesses the adventure of mountain climbing to raise money for cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. This July, the 27-member Lydig team is climbing to the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker in Washington’s North Cascades.

The event is a great fit with the company’s values, said CEO Larry Swartz, who is on the team along with his son and daughter.

“When you have success, it’s important to share that success and recognize that there are needs in the community,” Swartz said. “Cancer is real, and it touches literally every one of us.”

Since 1997, Climb to Fight Cancer has raised more than $8.3 million for research at the Hutch, thanks to climbers who have rallied their communities behind them in support of the cause while ascending legendary peaks in the Northwest and worldwide.

Beginners and experienced climbers are welcome, and participants can choose from more than a dozen routes with a wide range of difficulty levels. (This month, one Climb participant is even attempting a Mount Everest summit). All teams are professionally guided.

Lydig’s first team climb was in 2012, when the group ascended Mount Adams, another Cascades volcano in southern Washington state. That year, the team raised over $110,000 for cancer research. This year, their goal is even bigger: $125,000. They’re reaching it with the help of the entire local construction industry.

“We’re reaching out to people, the people we work with day in and day out, and the response has been phenomenal, as it was in 2012,” Swartz said.

Corporate philanthropy benefits business in the long run, Swartz explained, by helping create a community in which employees want to live and companies set up shop. And there’s nothing like climbing a mountain together to promote employee health and camaraderie.

“We truly believe that people who feel good about who they’re working for, and who take care of themselves, are better prepared and do a better job of serving our customers,” Swartz said.

From novices to expert mountaineers, Lydig team members have a lot of reasons for joining their co-workers to climb. Here are some of their stories:

Man standing in snow high on rocky mountaintop
Ryan Dahle does a training hike in Arizona in April 2018. Photo courtesy of Ryan Dahle

Ryan Dahle

Former Lydig employee
Returning climber

Ryan Dahle bagged his “first official mountain,” as he puts it, when he was 16: Washington’s Mount Olympus. He made his first attempt at Rainier’s summit two years later and has kept on hitting the peaks since then. But certain climbs stand out, he said.

“I look back at all the mountains I climbed over the last years, and the most rewarding climbs are with Fred Hutch,” said the amateur mountaineer. “Doing it more than just for the climb, but also doing it for others.”

Dahle organized Lydig’s first team in 2012. He had been searching for some sort of active event that his fellow employees could do together for a good cause, something that would inspire more excitement than the average 5K fun run. So, tapping into his lifelong passion, he typed “charity and climb” into Google and found Climb to Fight Cancer.

It fit the bill. And an eye-opener to Dahle was how much the Lydig team’s climb meant not just to employees, but the entire local construction industry.

“Lydig partnered with hundreds of contractors in the area to get to this goal,” Dahle said. “What we weren’t ready for, in a positive way, was just the coming together-ness of the community, doing something with people that we work with every day, for more than just ourselves.”

Photo of man smiling for camera on snowy mountainside with a blue sky.
Eric Olson climbed Mount Adams with his Lydig teammates in 2012. Photo courtesy of Eric Olson

Eric Olson

Senior project manager
Returning climber

It’s a surreal feeling to stand on top of a mountain, Eric Olson said, thinking about his first-ever mountain ascent with his Lydig teammates in 2012. You can turn a slow circle on the peak over 12,000 feet above the distant sea and watch the Cascade range stretch for hundreds of miles to the north and south, the bright gleam of volcanic peaks breaking out of the green forest blankets on their flanks and piercing the clinging fluff of clouds. Far to the northwest, the Puget Sound glitters.

“It’s pretty crazy to be up that high and to know you accomplished the climb with a group of friends all the way to the top,” Olson said. “It’s quite the rewarding experience.”

Olson, who works out of Lydig’s Spokane office, relishes the opportunity the three-day adventure offers to bond with his teammates from the company’s Seattle-area office more than 200 miles away in Bellevue, Washington. But it’s personal, too.

“I’ve got grandparents and an aunt and uncle who have died of cancer,” he said. “To be involved in something like this, where we can help fight cancer, come up with cures for cancer, that’s definitely a motivation.”

Young man in graduation cap and gown with his arms around an elderly woman and an elderly man
Cody Scott and his grandparents. Scott's grandfather Art, who died of cancer in 2016, was his role model. Photo courtesy of Cody Scott

Cody Scott

Project engineer
New climber

Cody Scott’s memories of his grandfather Art are accompanied by a soundtrack of Seattle Mariners baseball games that were always on in the background when the two were together. From their shared sports fandom grew the roots of a deep relationship.

“He was my role model,” Scott said. The younger man grew up being inspired by his grandfather’s strength and positivity in the face of multiple sclerosis and, later, the diagnosis of cancer that claimed his life in 2016.

Scott has dedicated his upcoming climb, his first ever, to his grandfather. “For me, it’s a great motivation, just to think about other people going through the same thing,” he said.

Iconic Washington peaks like Mount Baker have been a constant backdrop to Scott’s life in Washington. Looking up at their snow-covered summits over the years, Scott has always thought: “One day, I’ll climb one of them,” he said.

And now, joined by his teammates, he is: for Art.

Chris Kesler

Layout foreman
Team captain and returning climber

Silhouette of a person with a backdrop of sunset in the mountains
Chris Kesler at sunset on a Climb to Fight Cancer ascent in 2016. Photo by Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita

When Chris Kesler joined the 2012 Lydig team, he was an outdoors-loving guy who was up for adventure and happy to support a good cause while seeking it. The “warm glow” of satisfaction he felt at the summit of Mount Adams and the pull of the strong bond with his fellow climbers gave him the bug to keep climbing.

And from then on, the cause started getting real.

“Instantly, I started making connections with people for whom that [cancer] was part of their life, through fundraising or talking to people about what I was doing,” said Kesler, whose 2018 ascent will be his seventh for Climb to Fight Cancer. “It was really rewarding that it seemed really meaningful to other people that you had put forth energy to it.

“Initially, it was kind of like, it was a cause. But later, it was like: You’re climbing for people.”

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Susan Keown was a staff editor and writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center from 2014-2022 who has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions. Find her on Twitter @sejkeown.

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