Hood River Middle School teacher Lisa Rust made an unusual, last-minute request to the school board for a two-month leave of absence last week.
That's when she found out she'd been selected as one of six members of the first-ever American Women's Mt. Everest Climbing Team.
"It's a dream come true," Rust said. The team is sponsored by the Ford Motor Corporation and is the first all-woman team to attempt to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain.
Rust leaves March 25 for Nepal. If her leave request is approved by the school board tomorrow night, the district will hire a long-term substitute to fill in for Rust -- who teaches science and social studies -- for the remainder of the school year.
Rust is an experienced mountain climber who spends summers as a mountain guide on Mt. McKinley in Alaska and on Washington's Mt. Rainier.
She learned last year of the all-women's Everest team. "I threw my name out there," she said, but she was originally not picked to be part of the team.
Then last week she got a surprise phone call from trip organizers telling her they'd "found a spot."
The team consists of several experienced climbers and three coaches, of which Rust is one. Ford picks up the tab for the expedition and all Rust's expenses -- which range between $60-70,000.
"I could never afford or even dream of climbing Everest without such corporate sponsorship," she said.
The theme of the climb is "Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things." Rust said she was selected as a member of the team because of her "unique status" as both a professional teacher and a successful climber and guide.
"I have dedicated a significant amount of time to sharing my climbing experience with HRMS students and the Hood River community," she said. She teaches an elective climbing class at the school as well as several adult and kids climbing classes for Community Ed.
Fewer than 10 American women have reached the summit of Mt. Everest, whose peak juts 29,035 feet from the Himalayas; all of them were led up the mountain by men.
In addition to climbing Rainier and McKinley, Rust has successfully climbed Mt. Aconcagua, South America's highest peak.
"If I make this one, it'll be my third of the `seven summits'," Rust said -- the highest peaks on the seven continents. "Then I might as well try them all, since this is the hardest one."
Rust has been to Nepal before, where she climbed Island Peak and trekked to Mt. Everest Base Camp. But this is her first attempt at climbing the mountain.
Rust will be gone through early June. She hopes to provide frequent updates to her husband, John, also a climber, via satellite phone.
"He's a little bit jealous," Rust said. The expedition's coordinators are firming up plans for updates through a yet-to-be-determined website. The Hood River News will publish that site's online address in an upcoming issue so readers can follow the progress of Rust's expedition.