Climbers scale Mt. Shasta for breast cancer prevention

Skye Kinkade
Tessa Montgomery sprinkles sand from her dear friend's favorite Hawaiian beach last week when she reached Mt. Shasta's summit during the Climb Against the Odds.

When Tessa Montgomery made it to the summit of Mt. Shasta Wednesday of last week, she spread some sand from her friend Chelsey Forrest’s favorite beach in Kauai.

Chelsey died from cancer last spring at the age of 30. Her loss was Montgomery’s inspiration to participate in the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds to raise money for research and prevention of the disease.

As the designated Siskiyou County climber, all of the more than $10,000 she raised will stay local to help women affected by breast cancer.

Montgomery called the climb an “amazing, emotional ride” which she is proud to have accomplished along with Mount Shasta’s Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas and 23 others from around the United States.

Of the 25 participants, 20 made it to the summit this year. The other five made it to at least 11,500 feet on Mt. Shasta’s flanks.

Ramas, the medical director at Mercy Community Clinic and mother of two young children, also had never considered climbing Mt. Shasta before the Climb Against the Odds, she said.

“But for the women that have helped form me into the person I am today, I will do it and enjoy the process. What my mother has taught me is that there is immense beauty in pain. There is nobility in suffering. There is peace in this understanding.”

Ramas’s mother, Colette Bistoury, died in December 5, 2013 from an aggressive form of lymphoma. She also climbed in honor of her aunt, Brigitte Bonny, who is in remission from breast cancer, and her 36 year old patient who recently lost her battle with breast cancer.

“The image of climbing mountains to compare to one’s walk with cancer seems so fitting,” said Ramas. “Both survivors and supporters work together taking one step at a time, to reach their personal summit.

“This climb was such an epic experience and I have gained a group of friends that will last for a lifetime!” Ramas continued. “I must say that although the summit was beautiful and energizing, the pinnacle of the experience was during the pilgrimage up the mountain. We all had to become a unit and in that, give a part of ourselves to the team. We put vanity aside and focused on what mattered, taking one foot in front of another, being deliberate with each breath and nurturing our bodies with food and water.”

“The Climb Against the Odds was so much more than I had anticipated,” said Montgomery. “Not only was I put together with a group of people all climbing for a common reason, but we were tested to limits we didn’t know we had. We came together in love, pain, determination and a mutual understanding of what the climb meant. It was a symbol for hope of a greater future for our families and generations to come.

“I fell in love with the mountain through this experience and my heart belongs to the BCF staff, my fellow climbers and Shasta Mountain Guides (who did an incredible job making sure we were all safe),” said Montgomery, a CPA at Aiello, Goodrich & Teuscher and mother of a three year old son.

Both Montgomery and Ramas made new friends on their journey. They shared a tent with 31 year old Annie Kirk, an employee at Seattle-King County public health.

Kirk had never climbed a mountain before last week, said her mom, Tory Shook.

“But she’s the kind of person who sets her mind to something and does it,” she said, whether it be running a marathon or climbing Mt. Shasta.

They both support the Breast Cancer Fund because of its focus on prevention, she said.

Kirk carried prayer flags for her grandmother and her mother’s best friend, both who battled breast cancer.

Climber Jill Zastko, a breast cancer survivor from Columbus, OH, called the Climb the most incredible experience of her life, according to a blog that followed the journey. At one point, other people on her rope team had turned back and her guide wasn’t sure if she could keep going.

Zastko decided to go on, and as she approached the west face of Mt. Shasta, another rope team that was farther ahead started cheering for her. That inspiring moment which helped her push through and make it to the top.

Ruth Walter, a cheese shop owner from Bronxville, NY, made the climb to mark her five year anniversary from treatment. She was one of the 20 who summited.

“I couldn't have done it without my teammates,” she said. “I have never been drawn to the Walk for the Cure or anything like that. I don’t really like pink or ribbons or self identifying as a breast cancer survivor. I feel like it’s kind of inundated our lives and I really like how the Breast Cancer Fund’s emphasis is on prevention.”

Ramas agrees. “The Breast Cancer Fund’s mission to remove all things that can cause cancer in our everyday lives is an assertive way that we as consumers can empower ourselves... Although detection and treatment are important, we have to look beyond the pink and make sure that we are feeding our mind, body and spirits with life-enriching things. This should be the aim for all companies and we should not have to battle this issue as consumers.

“As a family doctor, it is imperative that I ‘walk the talk.’ I live by example and take much pride in fostering a community that is health conscious and more aware of what they buy into.”

This is the eleventh time the Climb Against the Odds has taken place on Mt. Shasta.

Local climbers have raised more than $100,000 in past years for their efforts. They are Terry Thompson, Jenn Carr and Nancy Swift in 2003; Annie Bowles in 2004; Melinda Barnes in 2006; Anna Antonowich in 2007; Hillie Crowfoot in 2008; Karen Pautz in 2010; Paul Engstrom in 2011; Alisa Johnson in 2012; and Jen Bray in 2013.

To make donations

You can still make donations to support both Montgomery’s and Ramas’s climbs though July.

To make donations toward Montgomery’s campaign, go to: or send checks to PO Box 158, Mount Shasta CA, 96067.

To donate to Ramas’s effort, go to:

For photos of the ceremony that took place when the climbers made it down to Bunny Flat on Thursday, June 19, see our album at