EVERETT — The photo in the newspaper showed a boy with a boot perched on a chunk of granite, grinning as he signed his name in the Mount Whitney summit register.
The image was burned into Mill Creek resident Jeff Brown’s head.
“Something about him as a 12-year-old standing there smiling,” Brown said. “I thought: That’s the attitude I have to take.”
Dr. Rick Thurmer, the boy from the photo, grew up to complete the Seven Summits, as featured in The Daily Herald in 2017. Reaching the highest peaks on the seven continents is something only about 500 people have accomplished.
Thurmer died last month in a climbing accident on Dragontail Peak in the Cascade Range. He was 66.
Brown reached out to the Herald when he heard the news. He wanted to talk about how Thurmer inspired him. After reading about his climbing career in 2017, Brown set out to summit his first “14er.” The highest he’d been before was 12,300 feet, at the top of Mount Adams.
“I struggle with exposed heights like cliffs and stuff like that,” Brown said. “But when I read Dr. Thurmer’s story. … I thought: That’s it.”
Jeff Brown and his father Daryl summited the California peak in just under a day. He remembers every minute.
The duo set out from the Whitney Portal trailhead around 10 a.m. Aug. 15, 2018.
Jeff had injured his Achilles tendon just days before beginning the climb. Every step was a gamble.
“I’m thinking: This could be my last,” he said. “This thing could pop at any moment.”
His dad, who last summited Whitney in ’81 was calm, cool and collected.
After climbing about 2,100 feet to Outpost Camp, they put up a tent and called it a day.
At 2 a.m. Jeff Brown popped out of bed, running on about a half hour of sleep. He got his dad to do the same. It was his first time hiking in the “pitch dark.” They lost the trail a few times, navigating granite slabs only distinguishable from another by their size. A trio of young women joined them, worried about losing their way.
After reaching Trail Camp at 12,000 feet, every step became a new altitude record for Jeff Brown. Looking east around 5:36 a.m., the sun crested the distant hills.
“Here you are: This tiny little ant on the side of this big, massive 14,000 foot peak,” Jeff Brown said. “And you got the sun rising in real time. You can see 400 miles practically in every direction.”
In just a few hours, they neared the top.
With 100 yards left to reach the 14,505-foot peak, the chunky granite summit hut where 12-year-old Thurmer was pictured came into Brown’s view. It was “like a mirage.”
“It’s almost like, is that real? Or is it just a figment of my imagination?” Brown said.
Daryl noted his arrival in the summit register.
“Daryl Brown, Richland, Washington. Second Whitney summit. 62nd birthday,” he wrote.
Daryl is an avid climber. He has done every peak in the Cascade range over 10,000 feet. He has also summited the 20,000-foot Island Peak in the Himalayas.
Jeff reached his first 10,000-foot summit on Mount Lassen at age 8, alongside his dad. He has been inspired by him since.
But he’d never really been able to follow in his father’s footsteps until reading Dr. Thurmer’s story and embracing the attitude of the 12-year-old boy in the photo.
Now, Brown has his own photo on the summit, standing beside his dad.
He has two copies of the photo framed, one on his dresser, the other on his desk at work.
“I keep it there to serve as motivation for a litany of days when things aren’t going well, or I feel like I can’t do anything right,” Brown said. “Truthfully, this moment right here was the one moment where I felt like, ‘OK, I really did something cool here. I did something noteworthy. I did something that could potentially inspire somebody else.’”
The couple met in 1978. Together, Rick and Alma climbed to Everest base camp, where she stayed until he made it to the summit on May 17, 2010. They traveled to Europe, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand and Alaska, almost always with a mountain to climb. And they raised three boys: Sean, Derek and Ryan Thurmer.
“I don’t want to pretend like I knew their dad, but I do want them to know that their dad meant something to me,” Brown said. “And I don’t know if there’s anybody else out there, but I would be willing to bet that there is probably another Jeff Brown out there, who maybe climbed Aconcagua or read Dr. Thurmer’s story and said I’m going to … summit Mount Everest. I just want his wife and his sons to know: Their father and their husband inspired me.”
Brown said he hopes to continue honoring Dr. Thurmer’s legacy. He has added Kilimanjaro and Everest base camp to his bucket list.
A memorial service for Dr. Thurmer will be held 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Holy Rosary Parish in Edmonds.