TACOMA, Wash. – For Peter Eubank, it’s hard to know where the adventures in his life begin and end. Just two months ago he was trekking through a humid jungle war zone in Burma, and Sunday he set foot at the break of dawn on the icy summit of Washington state’s 14,417-foot Mount Rainier.
Last month, he scaled the magnificent Grand Teton’s chimney face in Wyoming in a biting wind, a highly technical climb, before summiting Washington’s Mount Baker.
With several other climbs and a rodeo or two thrown in between – a ride on a bucking steer no less – it’s a full enough summer for anyone to write home about. But Peter is only 6 years old.
He’s now the youngest, by far, to summit Grand Teton and among the youngest to climb Mount Rainier.
His father, David Eubank, a former U.S. Army Ranger officer, founded a group called the Free Burma Rangers in 1997 in response to the overwhelming needs of millions of ethnic people in Burma who have suffered under the country’s brutal military dictatorship for six decades.
It’s a face-to-face work of relief, development and training among hard-pressed people in remote mountainous areas that, the Eubanks say, is rooted in their Christian faith and a God-given love.
Mount Rainier stirred David Eubank’s heart when he served as a lieutenant and later a captain with the 2nd Ranger Battalion at nearby Fort Lewis. He also was a detachment commander of a HALO, Military Free Fall team with the 1st Special Forces Group at the base.
Along with Peter’s sisters Sahale, 11, and Suu, 9, and his mother, Karen – who are strong climbers in their own right – the family spends much of their year walking rugged, steep jungle trails by day and night to reach villagers who’ve suffered attack by the Burma Army or to train teams of ethnic leaders from across the Southeast Asian nation.
When the family comes to the U.S. to speak to churches and other groups and meet with supporters, they find it difficult to sit still.
“It’s for the love of it,” David Eubank said of his family’s climbing, “for moving and overcoming obstacles as a family, for the joy of working together, for the exhilaration of steep faces and plunging cliffs and God’s nature.”
He cites the famous line attributed to running great Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire”: God “made me fast” and “when I run I feel His pleasure.”
“God has made all people ‘fast’ at something,” Eubank said. “For us, when we climb together up knife-edged ridges with plunging drops on each side, a sky of ice blue above, and love between us, we feel God’s pleasure.”
Growing up with the Free Burma Rangers, which supports more than 50 ethnic teams throughout the country, Peter began traveling through war zones on his mother’s back at 3 weeks old. By the age of 4, he was walking up to 30 miles a day.
At 3 years old, he climbed Pinnacle Peak, near Mount Rainier, and hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At age 4, he reached the top of The Brothers in Washington’s Olympic Range.
Last year, at the age of 5, he became the youngest to summit Teewinot Mountain in the Grand Tetons and the youngest to summit Mount Sahale in Washington.
On a clear day
This year, the family arrived in Washington state in June directly from a relief mission to Kachin state in northern Burma. Fighting continues there despite the political progress marked by the election to parliament of opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest.
On Friday night, Peter, his father, and climbing partners Jonathon Claussen and Chris Strode began their ascent of Mount Rainier with a climb to 9,000 feet. On Saturday, they moved up to 11,000 feet and camped at Ingraham Flats, on a glacier on the mountain’s eastern flank, in preparation for the final 3,000-plus feet to the summit.
On a day like last Sunday, the pinnacle of the active volcano affords a view from Canada to southern Oregon and from the deserts of Eastern Washington to the verdant Puget Sound region.
Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the continental U.S. from base to summit. Measured from sea level, it’s the fifth highest. With a total gain of about 9,000 feet over 18 miles, the heavily glaciated mountain is a challenging climb that tests the stamina and skills of most adults. Once known also as Mount Tacoma – locals just call it “the mountain” – it claims an average of two lives a year in mishaps mostly related to severe weather.
Peter’s team arose at midnight and set out for the summit at 1:30 a.m. Sunday. They reached the rim of one of Rainier’s two craters at 5 a.m. and arrived at the summit a half-hour later as emerging sun rays began to reveal their breathtaking position at the top of the Pacific Northwest.
The team prayed together, Eubank said, “amazed at the gift God gave us.”
Peter, meanwhile, still had plenty of energy in his seemingly limitless tank.
“He told us to speed up on the way down,” said Eubank, noting his son provided a running commentary as he explored crevasses and took every opportunity to glissade, or slide, down the mountain then clamber up the slope again for another run.
When they arrived at base camp, they were greeted by a host of jubilant climbers from many nations who cheered Peter’s accomplishment. A Japanese climber captured the scene on video.
David said he was told Sunday by Mount Rainier National Park rangers and guides that Peter was the youngest to climb the peak. Mount Rainier’s museum curator and archivist, Brooke Childrey, told WND she doesn’t have any documentation in her files that would verify an age record. But she said former lead climbing ranger Mike Gauthier reports a 4-year-old accomplished the climb in seven days in 1999.
It’s safe to say, nevertheless, that Peter – who was on and off the mountain in under 48 hours and on a flight to Asia with his dad the evening he reached the top – is in rare company.
Usually, when Peter climbs, he’s roped with his father in the lead and his mother behind him, offering encouragement and support.
He remarked that on this trip, he didn’t have to “pull my mother” to the top.
The 6-year-old admitted, however, that the journey up and down Washington’s iconic peak is “lots of walking.”