From 12, 280'

A Central Cascade Peak Becomes the Venue for Students, Faculty, Staff and Military-Connected Alumni to Practice Collective Grit, Effective Leadership and Hope

group on the mount adams summit with Gonzaga flag
Mount Adams Summit (12, 280')
November 08, 2021
Alan Westfield & The School of Leadership Studies


It was the encounter of two students in the M.A. in Organizational Leadership (ORGL) program, an established author and combat veteran, that shaped the genesis and vision of giving voice to veterans and their cold nose companions in Hope Has a Cold Nose. These life giving stories moved and compelled the ORGL program into reflection, action, and deeper relationship with its military-connected community through a number of intimate initiatives. Most recently, military-connected ORGL students and alumni organized and climbed Mount Adams as an expression of living the realities shared in Hope Has a Cold Nose, further growing in relationship, solidarity, and a supportive community from graduate leadership studies. The challenges, connections, and discoveries on the mountain were boundless for intimacy, growth, and healing. Priceless spotlights highlight the power of coming together in wilderness and community. 

From 12, 280'

Written by Alan Westfield, PhD Leadership Studies | Assistant Professor, Military Science

Since 2010, the M.A. in Organizational Leadership program has offered a course in Leadership & Hardiness. Developed and taught by Dr. Adrian Popa, the course’s capstone exercise puts into action the theory taught in the classroom with a climb of Mount Adams by members of the class, as well as former students who serve as guides. In 2019, when faculty and staff in the School of Leadership Studies began brainstorming ways to engage military-connected students and alumni, a climb of Mount Adams rose to the surface. 

Central to the climb and its ultimate purpose was a book written by ORGL alumna, Christine Hassing, titled Hope Has a Cold Nose - a compilation of co-authored life stories featuring remarkable Veterans and their unique journeys to hope with the support of their cold-nosed companions. Christine’s book, as well as a powerful webinar conversation around suicide prevention on Veteran’s Day 2020, were the galvanizing catalysts for planning in earnest to safely climb Mount Adams in the summer of 2021.


The expedition began on July 15th when 13 climbers – a cohort of alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends - arrived at Cold Springs trailhead in the Mount Adams Wilderness at 5,600’. This would be the starting point from which, over the next two days, climbers would make their way to a bivouac site at 9402’, and eventually to the summit at 12,280’. The objective was for everyone to come off the mountain in good health, a mission that was accomplished despite challenges and unexpected circumstances – from the physicality of ascending the mountain, altitude sickness, high winds, wide range of temperatures, burned corneas, mental and emotional challenges, continuous requirements for grit and resilience, and even a helicopter medical evacuation from up on high.

Members of the expedition share their reflections:

"I would not have been on the top of Mount Adams if it wasn’t for learning of a GU student who had reached a point in which life no longer held hope. This dear soul became one more to keep the number of military veteran suicides a day at twenty-two. A friend once said to me in response to a tragedy that if we make a positive change as a result of the tragedy, we make it matter that it happened. Life would not be extraordinary, breathtaking, and beautiful beyond words if it didn’t include steep climbs. I carry forward leadership to inspire others to believe that at the top of a climb hope will always be found."
Christine Hassing Author, Hope Has a Cold Nose | Alumna, M.A. Organizational Leadership ('18)
"Our moments on the mountain uncovered for me the power of the unspoken – movement, presence, silence, togetherness – and, in the words of a fellow climber, ‘that healing only occurs when we air out our wounds."
Kelsey Solberg School of Leadership Studies Staff | Alumna, M.A. Organizational Leadership ('21) 
"What I’m bringing with me from the mountain is the role and responsibility of leadership as building safety, sharing vulnerabilities, while cultivating a leader identity amongst individuals within a group, in order to open pathways to more responsible action and more life-giving ways of being with each other and accomplishing the results the group truly desires. Perhaps this also reinforces that while representations of leadership in popular culture highlight highly visible acts, perhaps leadership is more often found in those unseen, quiet, in-between, and unspoken moments."
Adam Gierlach Alum, M.A. Organizational Leadership ('21)

As I try to make sense of the experience, and assess my previously held views about effective leadership, most critical to me are achievement, aptitude, and attitude. Leaders must strive for the first and possess the other two to be effective. Leaders cause people to act and achieve results. Effective leaders possess a combination of aptitude defined as abilities and attitude defined as an indomitable will to get things done. Essentially, leadership makes a difference in achieving goals and effective leaders blend aptitude and attitude to influence the group in the process. Furthermore, effective leadership is built on relationships. And finally, effective leaders change.

Acts of selflessness, competence, character, care for others, growth, and commitment to the goals and people were in abundance during our collective journey. Routinely and usually without prompting, group members volunteered to purify water, lighten another’s load, share electrolytes, and tighten a teammate’s crampons on steep inclines in snow fields in the dark. Several timely, important decisions were taken with effective communications incorporating input and wisdom from the group. Dealing with the unexpected, improvising, and problem solving built on trust are acts and characteristics of leadership, followership, and hardiness I will never forget. It was truly a case study of what effective leadership in action is all about. For all of that and what is shared by the others, I will always be grateful for the experience, the people who were and remain part of it, and what was accomplished. In the future I will strive to be a better team member and human being.

In closing, we leave you with Adrian Popa’s perceptive and meaningful reflection regarding the 2021 Mount Adams Climb.

The mountains represent beauty, courage, healing, solitude, and unforgiving power that evokes resilience in planning, community, strategy, execution of goals, and commitment to a roundtrip journey. It is the paradoxical solo and collective journey that gives meaning to summits of the mind, body, and spirit. Until we climb again…

Dedicated to Deb and Joe Albert. Thank you for your example, service to others, and devotion to ideals and causes of value that matter. You will continue to inspire.

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