“It’s all about the journey and not about the summit.”
This was the advice Michelle Clyborne, Ruth Hayes Arista and Maria Montalvo, all Edmonds businesswomen, received from a guide about a month before they attempted climbing to the summit of Mount Rainier.
The friends reached the top of 14,410-foot dormant volcano in late September. But it was the journey that will stay with them.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Clyborne, who works at Windermere in Lynnwood.
The decision to climb Mount Rainier grew out of a casual conversation, said Ruth Arista, who owns Arista Wine Cellars with her husband, Dave.
Arista said making the trek was “on her list,” and once her friends had signed on, the trio began to train in early February.
They started by climbing local peaks like Tiger Mountain and Mount Si.
“The first times (we hiked) our legs were shaky,” Arista said.
“We thought we were going to die,” Clyborne added.
But over the months, they added weight to their packs and found themselves less out of breath each weekend.
They also did cardio and weight training at home in Edmonds. Clyborne and Arista both lost more than 20 pounds from training. Montalvo, who chairs the Hazel Miller Foundation, actually gained weight from increased muscle.
As their waistlines shrunk, their friendship grew. The three had been friends for years because of business ties. But their weekly escapes into the outdoors brought them especially closer.
“We shared the camaraderie we have in the community on the mountain,” Montalvo said.
“We had to support each other,” she added.
When the big weekend came, Clyborne, Arista and Montalvo were ready. “We were prepared. We had confidence in each other and in ourselves,” Montalvo said.
All of their hard work was validated when one weekend, while training, a New York City firefighter told them they were “tough.”
This confidence in their newfound strength served them well up the mountain: “We were trained and ready,” Arista said.
After a 2 a.m. start on the third day of climbing, all three reached the summit and were able to enjoy the majesty of the mountain.
“It was so beautiful and tranquil,” Clyborne said. “I didn’t want to stop.”
The journey to the top of Mount Rainier left deep impressions on each climber: a need to get away from hectic schedules, a newfound respect for nature and, perhaps most important, that despite their ages even this feat was not impossible.
The three “outdoor rookies,” as Arista deemed the trio, may have been unlikely candidates for mountain climbers — all are in their 40s or 50s. But they learned their age was no match for support, time and determination.
“I learned so much about myself in the journey,” Clyborne said. “I learned that women in their 40s and 50s have high physical ability to achieve. … Just because you’re in your 40s doesn’t mean you can’t do things.”
So what’s next for the now seasoned climbers? Mount Baker, Mount Adams — maybe even Mount Kilimanjaro.
Wherever they climb next, it’s doubtless they’ll enjoy getting there.