Team finds strength in push to succeed
SPOKANE - Scott Galloway used to get high on cocaine and meth. In July he'll get high on Mount Baker as part of an expedition of homeless men who are gearing up to scale the 10,700-foot peak.
The men live at the Union Gospel Mission and are part of a program that turns outdoor skills into the confidence they need to succeed in life.
Separate teams of the self-proclaimed "Mountain Goats" plan to climb Mount Rainier on June 26 and Mount Baker on July 16.
"They will learn that if they can summit something like Rainier, they can tackle any issue in life and succeed," said Chaplain Steve Slover, who conceived and runs the program. "For some, it's the first time they've had real success."
The nine men, some of whom spent the past winter huddling in lobbies to escape winter temperatures, are now training with ice axes, harnesses and other survival gear.
They hike with loaded packs, learn how to pull fellow climbers out of crevasses and get handy with an ice ax to prevent sliding off a mountain if they fall.
Slover started the Mountain Goats in 1999 as a way to help homeless men develop trust in others and to realize they can set and accomplish goals.
The Mountain Goats are based in an upstairs "lodge" at the mission that includes a pool table, leather couches and antique outdoor gear on the walls. Mark Tarbell, 43, was homeless for about a year before he arrived; suffering from depression and paranoia, he had contemplated suicide.
But Slover insisted he join the Mountain Goats, and now the intense physical training makes him almost euphoric, Tarbell said.
"Three days a week, I feel good about things," said Tarbell. "I have had no suicidal thoughts since the beginning of Mountain Goat training."
Now he's thinking of completing college to become a math teacher.
Galloway, 35, spent years abusing heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
"I had exhausted all resources, burned every bridge and had nowhere else to turn," Galloway said.
He came to Spokane for drug treatment last year, but lapsed back into the drug lifestyle and became homeless. He survived the winter by hanging around hospital lobbies as if he were waiting for someone.
Galloway is set to climb Mount Baker on July 16, exactly one year to the day after breaking his leg during a drinking bout. It was February before he decided to turn his life around, he said.
Each Saturday, the Mountain Goats hike with 30-pound packs. They work on conditioning and strengthening exercises twice a week, running stairs near the falls of the Spokane River. They run up hills, sometimes backward, and then run down.
"It's all hard-core, real mountain climbing," Slover said, requiring some six months of training.
Three years ago, Slover took a team up to 14,400-foot Mount Rainier and had one man reach the top. Two subsequent attempts the next year where thwarted by avalanches.
A longtime mountaineer, much of Slover's work on behalf of the Mountain Goats involves finding equipment to rent or borrow. He also accepts donations of equipment or money.
"We really need support on these things. A jacket is $300," Slover said. He still needs about $600 to complete this expedition's outfitting.
Scott Lawson, 36, of Spokane, volunteered to be a Mountain Goat after hearing others at the mission talk about the experience.
"It's not for everybody," he said. "Lots of people start the training but back off. The packs and the running get to them."
He entered the mission on New Year's Eve 2002, after 22 years of drug and alcohol addiction.
"My income was selling drugs, basically," Lawson said. "In that lifestyle, you could not trust anybody."
But trust in fellow climbers is a key component of mountain climbing, Lawson said. Climbers are roped together and rely on each other in case of accidents.
"I know people I can lean on," he said. "I know I can accomplish something."
On the Net:
Union Gospel Mission Web site: www.ugmspokane.org