Bellingham resident Vaughn Hagen, 58, often catches himself marveling at Mount Baker's snow spattered peaks while making his daily drive home from downtown. Soon he'll be atop of arguably Whatcom County's most treasured landmark.
His goal of summiting Baker isn't solely for personal accomplishment. Though admittedly it will be a rewarding feat, Hagen aims to achieve more. He wants to help save lives.
An avid hiker and longtime member of Bellingham's Kiwanis Club chapter - 21 years to be exact - Hagen is climbing in an effort to raise money for a noble cause. Kiwanis is working in conjunction with UNICEF to stamp out Maternal/Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) through the Eliminate Project. MNT is a disease that kills an estimated 60,000 newborns and a number of women every year in Africa as well as Southern and Eastern Asian countries.
"You can eliminate MNT just with a tetanus shot," said Hagen, who turns 59 four days before his climb takes place, Saturday-Monday, Aug. 24-26. "A lot of the babies are born in dirt huts and in unsanitary conditions. They can get tetanus through the umbilical cord. It's a difficult way to die. It's heart wrenching to see that 50-60,000 babies a year die. It's something we can eliminate together. It's already been eliminated in 20 of 38 countries."
MNT is prevented by three simple vaccinations to women of childbearing age, Kiwanis International's website on the Eliminate Project states. Three vaccinations cost only $1.80 in the US.
Hagen's fundraising goal is as high as Mount Baker's peak, literally. He wants to raise $10,800 - $1 for each foot of Mount Baker's elevation. The mountain's official peak is listed at 10,781 feet.
How close is he?
"I'm a little over 3,200 so far," he said, "but there are a lot of Canadian (Kiwanis) clubs in the division, and I haven't updated what they're at. There are a lot of people on board for this thing."
Preparing for Hagen's first summit of any mountain has taken more than simply dreaming of it. Plenty of hard work has gone into the process.
He started a mountaineering-training regimen June 1, which includes biking 30 miles a week, running two to four miles and climbing 1,000 stairs for cardio. To build strength, he completes seven-to-12-mile hikes on the weekends, does push-ups and squats.
"That's been the hardest thing - just pushing myself to always do something," Hagen said.
Growing up in Bellingham, Hagen's hiked all his life. He does a backpacking trip every summer with his high school friend. He's just hoping he's in good enough shape to get up a mountain and doesn't run into bad weather.
Hagen will head to Baker Saturday, Aug. 24, for two days of training with his guides before he starts his ascension around midnight, Sunday night, Monday morning, Aug. 25-26. The climb itself is expected to take around 10 hours. Then Hagen and his guides will turn around and head back to the bottom, all in a day's work.
"That will be a long day," Hagen said with a despondent tone.
But the experience and cause will be well worth it.
Hagen speculated what he'll be feeling after summiting.
"I'm sure it will be real emotional," he said. "You finally reach the top, and all the fundraising you are doing, you finally did it. I'll probably be the happiest guy in the whole world. It will be real emotional, because I'm doing it for all the babies and hopefully it'll save some lives. It's hard to know how many, but you're just doing this for a worthy cause."
Anyone interested in donating to Hagen's climb for MNT prevention can donate by writing a check to the Kiwanis Club of Bellingham Foundation and mail it to P.O. Box 902, Bellingham, WA 98227
Hagen also said interested donors can donate at www.TheEliminateProject.org, although the gift will not be credited toward his goal of $10,800.
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