Living With Attitude

Seattle Times Newspaper Article – Sunday August 5, 1984


Gutsy Amputee off Mt. Rainier Safely

by William Gough

MOUNT RAINIER – Guts, willpower, two crutches and one leg carried Sarah Doherty to the top of this mammoth mountain.

“I can’t believe we made it,” the 24-year-old occupational therapist told her climbing companions when they reached the summit of the 14,410-foot peak Friday morning.

Doherty, the first woman amputee to climb Mount Rainier – and possibly any major peak – without the use of an artificial leg, described her exhilarating experience yesterday afternoon when she came off the mountain.

She and four climbing companions, three men and one woman, arrived at the White River campground on the northeast slope of the mountain and were congratulated by other climbers and hikers.

“We had a good time. It was a real team effort and I didn’t get scared. . . . I was roped up with all these people,” said Doherty, referring to fellow climbers Wade Harness, Dave Merz, Darcy Burns, and Gwain Oka.

The climb wasn’t without its anxious moments, however. After the team began its ascent from Camp Schurman, the climbers had to cross a crevasse at the 12,000-foot level on Emmons Glacier. Doherty dropped one of her crutches as she jumped over the crevasse. But it was recovered and the climb continued.

“It could have been the end of our climb,” she said, “We all held our breath.”
Specially designed pointed tips were attached to Doherty’s crutches for digging into the snow. The basketlike tips acted like crampons, the spikes climbers wear on their boots to get traction on snow and ice.

The final ascent began in the predawn darkness of Friday morning. Wearing headlights and roped together, the five climbers kept up a good pace at first.

“at about 13,000 feet, I started feeling really tired,” Doherty said, “My teammates just said, ‘”Come on, Sarah.’”

She said that while their minds were on conquering the peak, they set subordinate goals, trying to reach certain points and then pushing on to others.

Doherty said standing on the summit was an exhilarating experience. But she was only slowly beginning to realize the magnitude of her accomplishment as she sipped a little victory champagne at the campground.

The climb began at noon Wednesday and the long adventure ended at 2:45 p.m. yesterday, when the group reached the campground. They had reached the summit at 10 a.m. Friday, staying there about an hour before returning to Camp Schurman that night.

Doherty said she became tired near the end of the descent, but her spirits and energy were revived when she approached the White River Campground.

Strong wind tore a Camp Schurman, perched at 9,600 feet on the mountain, early yesterday. The five climbers had rested there before coming off the mountain. Merz said the winds were gusting at 60 to 80 miles an hour, and other climbers trying to reach the summit had to turn back.

“We were lucky to get our tents down and get out,” he said.

Told that she is the first woman amputee to make such a climb on crutches, Doherty said, “It blows my mind when I hear that. It shows me that anything is possible, and I hope other people will discover this in their lives.”

Doherty works at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle. She lost her right leg and part of her pelvis in 1973 when a car hit her while she was riding a bicycle in Taunton, Mass., her hometown.