Donor Profile: Rick Kirsten

Rick Kirsten shares why he gives to The Mountaineers.
Mary Hsue Mary Hsue
October 23, 2015

Messenger of good fortune

Anyone who has put together a fundraising gala is likely to agree — the planning phase is type-two fun — enjoyed best in retrospect. Planning this sort of thing is stressful. Ideas, people, logistics. and all the other little details must fall into place. Every step becomes a mini leap of faith. When it all comes together – and the stars align – you’ve created a memorable evening for your guests, while achieving your fundraising goals. The stars definitely aligned for The Mountaineers special event, BREAKTHROUGH: expect the unexpected in April, and we unexpectedly shattered all goals.

One particular moment of aligning stars really stands out to me. It came at a time when I had just taken a huge leap of faith and calmed my uncertainty, setting an optimistic tone that cleared a path for all sorts of things that would never otherwise have occurred.

It was a Friday afternoon in January and time to hit “send” for the electronic Save the Date notice. The event date, time and venue were secured, but only one of the five stars of the show had officially confirmed. I anxiously hit send. Within what seemed like a few minutes I received notice that four VIP tickets had been purchased! Moments later I received an email from the purchaser informing me that he is looking forward to attending the event, interested in joining Peak Society, and he would like to donate a painting for the auction. Amazing. His email served as a good omen of things to come and gave me the confidence to takemany mini leaps of faith leading up to the event. I couldn’t have been more grateful.

My messenger of good fortune? Rick Kirsten. Seattle native, 45- year Mountaineers member and ardent fan of anything related to UW Huskies, he is the owner of Kristen Gallery, located in the University District for 43 years.

 Sharing a love of the outdoors

Rick’s experience with The Mountaineers began much like many longtime members – his aunt Elizabeth Hatton Stokoe was a Mountaineers member, a skier and climber. “She joined in 1943 and got me on the slopes at Snoqualmie back when we had to hack the hill ourselves. That was in the mid-50’s when we had to get there early to pack down the snow.” Rick doesn’t recall why it had to be done, but at least 30 people would be on the hill with them. “The rope tow, hot chocolate and a hamburger at the cabin are some of my fondest childhood memories.”

Rick joined The Mountaineers in 1971 after he took a basic climbing course at UW. “I wasn’t really aware of climbing back then. It was a girl who got me into it.” That would be the girl he wanted to date in his sociology class. “I asked her twice and she declined. Then she came back with a deal. She said ‘I’d like to take the mountaineering class at UW. If you join me then I’ll go out with you.”

After Rick took the mountaineering class he wanted to do more, so he joined The Mountaineers. “I climbed Mt. Hood with The Mountaineers. The basic climbing course at UW was good enough for The Mountaineers trip leader, so he let me come along.” After that climb, Rick was hooked and the girl in his sociology class became a mere memory. But that was his only summit with The Mountaineers, “I climbed independent from then on, mainly because I started my business, Kirsten Gallery in 1972. Building a business and raising a family didn’t leave much time for anything else.”

The next generation of Mountaineers

Whenever he could, Rick took his young son, Chris on hikes, but it’s wasn’t really his thing until a friend asked him if his dad still climbed. “Chris was a 17-year old senior in high school when his best friend asked him I would take them up Mt. Baker. He was not really interested in climbing, but wanted to maintain his best- friend status with his buddy, so he asked me.” Rick agreed and took them up to the summit of Mt. Baker. “After that Chris was hooked. The gallery and business took an inordinate amount of time, but we hiked and climbed together when we could. In fact we climbed Mt. Adams together.”

Chris took The Mountaineers Basic Climbing course in 2007. He met his wife Lori as he was planning to take the intermediate course. “When Chris signed up for Intermediate, Lori took the Basic course so they could be together and share a passion.” Rick couldn’t have been more pleased because Chris and Lori are now introducing their four year-old twin boys to the outdoors.

“Chris and I took my grandson, Levi to Vertical World. All the ropes on the kid wall were in use so we put him on bouldering wall.” Before he knew it, Levi climbed to the top of the boulder and took the ladder down to join Rick for top-roping. “We roped him up and he loved it. He has no fear and climbs just about anything he sees,” Rick proudly exclaimed.

 Giving to create protectors of the Pacific Northwest landscape

“I think it’s important for the boys to learn to have fun in the outdoors for their own health and to learn to be good protectors of the earth. They are the future of The Mountaineers. We have a good extended family with The Mountaineers and we want to keep that going on.”

That’s why Rick responded so quickly to the Save the Date email in January. “We attended the Everest event in 2013 and I was really excited to get Chris and Lori to the event this year.” Rick wants to do everything he can to make Chris and Lori aware of youth programs at The Mountaineers because “of the boys.”

Having observed multiple clubhouse moves and a marked drop in membership in past years, Rick also worries about The Mountaineers finances. “I wasn’t able to volunteer to help The Mountaineers so I decided to help financially. All business talk these days is about the Millennials being the future. Since Millennials don’t buy things, they buy experiences I wanted to invest in a place that provides those experiences that result in folks caring about the environment.” Rick wants to ensure The Mountaineers is around – not 100 years, but 500 years. “It will always be important to take care of the environment. And the source of caring is experiences and youth programs. It’s my hope that by giving, I will get future generations outside to be part of The Mountaineers.”

Disconnecting in an increasingly connected era

“Life gets more difficult for every generation that comes along. Corporations ask more and more from their people and technology has made it easy for employees to stay connected, so people have trouble disconnecting. I see it with Chris and Lori. It’s important for them to disconnect and get away from all of that.” Rick was pleased to share that Chris and Lori recently took time out to take the boys to Yellowstone and then Jackson Hole for a camping trip. “They are out of cell contact and having true family time with the boys.”

Disconnecting is something Rick works to do as much as he can. “Hiking the cable route at Tiger Mountain once or twice a week at daybreak is my respite. I get to the top and meditate.” Rick was introduced to this route about six years ago. “My next hike will be my 343rd trip up the cable route. I love it every time, and it’s better than going to the gym. When I’m out there listening to the silence and the birds early in the morning – there’s nothing like it.”

 A family making memories

Rick’s best mountaineering memory is climbing Eldorado with his son Chris. “It was my first time climbing the mountain. Chris had done it before. There was a marginal risk of weather. We summited but the weather started to come in and hit when we got back to the tent at Inspiration glacier.” They broke camp and descended as the weather got worse. “We got into a white out and it was windy. We had placed wands on the way up so we could see the route, but if we missed the notch, we would be in trouble.” As they descended to the creek to cross the big log that leads to the trailhead, they saw a bear. “A bear sitting on the log! We could see the trailhead, Chris was hypothermic and we were both tired, but we decided it would be best to wait out the bear.” Eventually, the bear moved and they made their way back to the car and home safely.

One part of the memory that stands out is that Rick wasn’t getting out as much because of the business so he wasn’t in as great a shape as he should have been. “Chris was hiking and climbing as much as he could. The ascent was strenuous for me so Chris offered to help by taking some of items in my pack to lighten my load. On the descent it was the reverse – I took care of him. It’s my fondest mountaineering memory because I was with my son and we shared the joy of the summit, telling stories in the tent. We were challenged by nature together and came through stronger at the end.”


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