Rose Vanderhoof, 78, Becomes Oldest Woman to Summit Mt. Rainier

Read more about the inspiring story of Rose Vanderhoof who, at age 78, became the oldest woman to summit Mt. Rainier on July 10, 2023.
Skye Michel Skye Michel
Associate Communications Manager
July 20, 2023
Rose Vanderhoof, 78, Becomes Oldest Woman to Summit Mt. Rainier
Rose Vanderhoof standing proud at the summit of Mt. Rainier.

On the morning of July 10, 2023, Rose Vanderhoof, 33-year Mountaineers member and avid outdoor enthusiast, became the oldest woman to summit Mt.Rainier at 78. She reached the summit with her son Chris Haugen, granddaughter Aleah Haugen, friend Mingrey Hildebrandt, and Mt. Tahoma Trails Association’s High Hut Manager Dr. Leyton Jump, who led the climb. This trip marked Rose’s ninth, and last, summit of Mt. Rainier. 

Climbing Mt. Rainier, known from immemorial time by the Puyallup Tribe as Tahoma, is a difficult endeavor at any age. The summit stands at 14,410 feet and takes most parties 2-3 days to climb round trip. About 50% of climbers reach the summit via the Disappointment Cleaver route, starting at Paradise and climbing around nine miles and 9,000 vertical feet to the summit. Only half are able to stand on its peak, making Rose’s feat all the more remarkable.

Rose didn’t intend to break any records with this climb. Her highest priority was having a great time with her family and friends in the mountains, which is why she allotted four days for her group to get acclimated to the conditions and altitude. “I just wanted it to be a fun time for all of us.”

Rose’s close knit community of friends were eager to support her in any way possible. Six of the team’s friends helped lessen the load by carrying ropes, tents, and extra gear to the crew's first camp spot at Camp Muir (10,080 ft), an elevation gain of 4,640 feet, 8 miles round-trip. (They were also waiting at Camp Muir upon the group’s return with hugs, flower leis, and fresh arms to carry gear back down the mountain). Rose’s son, Chris, even made up a jingle, which they all sang “Rosie to the Top! And we won’t Stop!”   

Rose and her team were grateful for the help, knowing that the next day they’d have to carry most of their gear to Ingraham Flats at11,000 ft.

After an evening of subpar rest at Camp Muir, the summit team awoke the second day and began their journey to Ingraham Flats, experiencing a few showers and hailstorms along the way and losing a sleeping pad to the fierce wind. Along the way, Chris lost his crampon and had to enlist the help of climbers below to retrieve it. When they arrived at Ingraham, the hail and wind died down, the crew quickly pitched their tents, shared macaroni and cheese, and did their best to settle in for a 5pm bedtime. The wake up alarm was going off at 11pm.

At midnight, Rose and her team set out for the summit. Above, the headlamps of climbers were glowing, shining a guiding light on the path that lay ahead. 

The group determinedly trekked their way over a crevasse ladder before starting up Disappointment Cleaver. A portion of travel that required scrambling proved especially difficult. Standing at  four foot eleven and weighing just 100 lbs, Rose found it challenging to lift herself up and around the larger rocks. When they began traversing the glacier, the wind was so strong it nearly knocked Rose off her feet. 

With 1,000 feet left, Rose started to feel exhaustion set in. “I was done,” she said. But “then all of a sudden, I could see in front of me all the beautiful faces of the people who supported me and I knew I couldn’t let them down.” Slowly, with one foot in front of the other, Rose continued climbing. 

After eight hours of steady climbing, they made it to the crater. The family members embraced, with Chris and Aleah wrapping Rose in their arms. Chris had tears of pride in his eyes.

As if to celebrate Rose’s feat, the weather at the top was calm and beautiful. The group walked across the crater to the registration box and signed in. Although the summit register’s pen wasn’t working too well, they managed to scribble in their names and dates to commemorate the accomplishment (to anyone summiting Rainier anytime soon, bring a replacement!). 

2023 Summit Group.jpg(From left to right) Mingrey Hildebrandt, Dr. Leyton Jump, Rose Vanderhoof, Aleah Haugen, and Chris Haugen, on the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Then, everyone walked together to the true summit. Rose took a video of the crater and its views, and enjoyed moments of pause to absorb as much as possible.“We sat down for a little bit and looked into the crater and thought about how hard it was to get up here and how relieved we were to have achieved this together. It was really an awesome moment for all of us. And it’s hard to even explain how wonderful it was to do this with my family and friends.” Even so, this summit was arguably Rose’s hardest, and likely her last.

As Rose describes it, she’s hanging up her mountaineering boots for good. But she’s got plenty of other boots with lots of life left in them. Rose’s favorite outdoor activity is backpacking (she and her friends completed the 93-mile Wonderland Trail last year), and with Rainier right in her backyard, she meets with her “Hiker Chicks” and “My Happy Place Hikers” weekly for outdoor activities. 

Rose’s goal in all of this is “to encourage everyone, young or old, to get out and enjoy God’s wonderful creation. There is so much beauty and wildlife to see.”

This climb marked the handing of a baton. It was her son and granddaughter’s first climb of Mt. Rainier, and it’s fair to say that with this experience Rose has passed on a love of climbing to her kin. “I think my granddaughter wants to climb every mountain now,” Rose said with a smile. 

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Laurel Geisbush
Laurel Geisbush says:
Aug 04, 2023 03:06 PM

Thank you for sharing the story of Rose and her family climbing together to the summit. I love this story of working together on a common goal. Well done, Rose!!