Common sense tells us that features like blue eyes or straight hair tend to run in families.
What may be uncommon, and definitely unexpected, is to find a family that shares a will and an ability to summit mountains — particularly when certain family members first reach that goal just after their 8th birthdays.
May Street Elementary third-grader Tanner Brownback, 8, knows all about that type of unusual shared trait. He joined his father, Bob Brownback, and Bob’s climbing partner Erik Broms, to summit Mount Hood together on July 21.
If that weren’t stunning enough, Tanner’s sister, Keeley, 10, set the bar two years ago, when she herself completed the same journey. The siblings’ mother, Kate, has also been to the summit in years past.
In case you’re wondering, this climbing family phenomenon is more than just a sport. And Tanner does not consider this a one-shot adventure.
“Most kids in my class do not get to do this,” said the focused, direct young man. “I definitely want to do it again.”
“I have been a guide on the mountain for over 16 years,” said Bob, who works for Northwest School of Survival. Showing his kids “where dad works” and helping his children reach this achievement is part of a larger life lesson he hopes to share with them.
“It’s about knowing that they can do anything in life if they properly prepare,” said Bob, a Navy veteran who follows the Seven Ps Principle: “Proper preparation and planning prevent piss-poor performance.”
To this strongly worded philosophical underpinning, the Brownbacks add rigorous physical training and intense mental conditioning prior to their climbs.
“I would run laps and run up and down the bleachers,” said Tanner. Hood River Valley High School and middle school were the favored tracks for his two-and-a-half-month training period. His workout lap-count amounted to just under two miles at each session.
The 20-up/20-down bleachers-routine turned out to be an important one. For Tanner, who measures about 4 feet 8 inches, one of the most difficult parts of the ascent were the adult-size steps cut into the ice.
According to Tanner, the hour between Hogsback and the summit was the most grueling, requiring him to lift his knees almost to shoulder-level to reach each step.
As to his mental conditioning, Tanner summed it up well:
“I stayed focused on getting to the top; not on what I was going to look like once I was there. I made sure my mind wasn’t drifting away. It was all about one thing: getting to the top.”
With cold, hunger and exhaustion dogging his young body as mercilessly as an adult’s, Tanner still managed to make the summit — at sunrise — where the world lay, literally, at his feet.
When asked about how he felt as he stood atop the peak, Tanner took the honest, straightforward position — “Cold, high.”
As a safety precaution, Bob and Tanner remained tied together at all times between high camp and the summit. To ensure unbiased decision-making in any potential emergency, Bob asked Eric to take the lead in climbing strategies and directives. The details of the climb were documented by Bob.
“We took the lift up to Palmer on July 20 and hiked to our Triangle Moraine high camp at 9,600 by around 3 p.m.,” said Bob. The trio made camp and went to sleep around 7 p.m. to make their 1:30 a.m. rise-time on the 21st.
Before they started at 2 a.m., a hot breakfast of sausage, eggs and cheese burritos was shared and packs were loaded up with snack reserves — a sandwich bag of gummy worms, a bag of Fritos, and four Ding-Dongs. According to Bob, most of the gummy worms made the return trip.
Tanner carried his own pack, including his crampons, ice axe, coat and requisite Nintendo DS player.
The team took their first break around 10,200 feet at the base of Crater Rock, around 3 a.m. The team then took an additional hour to reach Hogsback. Another short break preceded their final ascent through One O’Clock Gully, veering right off of the Old Mazama Shoot. They reached the summit near 5:30 a.m.
The trio stayed on the summit for around 20 minutes. According to Bob, “We didn’t want to stay too long. Speed is safety in this situation; as it warms, climbing conditions become more dangerous for rock and ice fall.”
The father-son descent from the summit was primarily managed by Broms, who lowered-off the pair with four full rope pitches (about 800 feet) until it was safe enough for Tanner to proceed under his own power, still linked to dad, back to high camp.
When Tanner reached his mother by phone, he was able to issue her only a few words on his experience when she asked how he was.
“Exhausted, starving, tired,” uttered Tanner. He immediately followed his statement by crashing into his sleeping bag. Tanner took an hour and a half rest before the trio skied back down to Timberline Lodge.
As a father, Bob offered his own perspective of the awe-inspiring moments on the summit shared with his children.
“I think both of my kids are extremely awesome. I’m such a lucky parent. Tanner is amazing, as is Keeley. I love that they stuck with training and both could accomplish this.”
While Tanner kept his promise to himself to focus on the climb and not the triumph at the top, he will certainly be able to recall that moment with clarity.
Perched above the clouds ringing Mount Hood, sunrise ascending, standing alongside his father, Tanner surveyed the world around him in reverent silence — a moment any young man could treasure forever.