Granite Peak Climb

In August 2010 a team of 6 climbers attempted and succeeded in climbing the highest mountain in Montana, Granite Peak (elevation 12799ft.)  The climb was led by Dave and JaLina Collins, both of whom are avid and experienced climbers. Ryan Glibbery, Kami and Garret Gillispie, and Brandi Roman Glibbery (a young onset PD patient) made up the remainder of the team. The goal of the climb was to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease. The climb represents the uphill climb that all Parkinson’s patients face on a day to day basis, in honor of this Brandi’s helmet carried the signatures of 8 fellow PDers.

> Check out some photos of the climb.

If  you are interested in future climbing expeditions, please contact us.

The Story of the Climb

It all started in late August of 2009 and I was having one of those days when you feel like the world is against you and everything that could go wrong would. I had spent most of the day alone and crying thinking, "How could I have Parkinson's disease."

My name is Brandi Roman, I'm 29, and I was diagnosed with PD when I was 25.This is my story about the journey to the top of my mountain.

That night I dragged myself out of bed and over to a friend's house. My friends, sensing that I was still depressed about being diagnosed with a genetic marker for Parkinson’s disease, wanted to cheer me up. They began telling me stories of a recent climb they had just returned from. While there intentions were good, their stories made me even more upset and depressed. Couldn't they understand my life was over?

I have PD. People with Parkinson’s disease don't climb mountains! We shake too much! Why are they giving me one more example of things I’ll never be able to enjoy?

Then it happened. My friend looked at me and said "you should climb a mountain; you could prove to people that you can overcome your weaknesses, that you don't have to go around you mountains. You can hit them "head-on" and go straight up and conquer your mountains!"  I'm not sure why that made any sense to me, but it did. It inspired me. I had a goal. I had something to prove to everyone...I had something to prove to myself!

I went home and researched mountains in Montana. I chose Granite Peak- the highest mountain in the state. I told myself, "If I was going to do this, I was going to make a point in doing it."

I spent the next twelve months preparing for this endeavor.  My training comprised of three equally important components: maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including making smart dietary choices like eating many fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed food, and taking my 1 mg Azilect® daily, physical training  and mental preparation. To prepare my body for the physical challenges ahead, I focused on building up the strength and endurance that the climb would demand. I walked and ran daily, went to the gym for cardio and weights and even learned to ski that winter. Finally, I met Dave and JaLina Collins who taught me the technical aspects of climbing, repelling and the importance of staying mentally focused on the task at hand.

Oh, and in my spare time, I started a non-profit organization "Summit 4 Parkinsons." Whose mission is: To give back to Parkinson’s community.

By May of 2010 I had a team of six, a plan, and whole bunch of support. I had a new found strength in myself and I lived by the motto "I have Parkinson's- Parkinson's does NOT have me." The climb gave me a purpose and a way to not only raise awareness for the disease, but to give others in the PD community the courage and strength to conquer their own challenges.

First Stage, Mystic Lake

We began our journey to the top of Granite Peak on August 12th, 2010. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the scenery was breathtaking. I felt amazingly good and strong, almost as if I were invincible. I had a team I believed in and whom I knew believed in me (their motto was "If Brandi can- WE can."). As I hiked I felt my willpower grow and my drive to succeed empower me. I was on a mission; I wasn't just climbing for myself anymore but for EVERYONE touched by Parkinson’s disease.

As we neared our first campsite, Mystic Lake, the skies quickly darkened and rain began to pour down. We found cover under some boulders and waited about half an hour before we could get back on the trail and make our way to the campsite. We were met by Dave and JaLina that evening, and during the night Kami and Garret crept their way into camp. By Friday morning our team was complete and we were radiating with excitement and enthusiasm.

Fog, Rain, Snow and Stars

At 09:00 on Friday morning we began the, rightfully named, "Switchbacks from Hell," a steep hike that rises in elevation from 7637 feet to 10,000 feet in less than three miles. The weather was perfect from the get-go: not too hot, not to cold. As we climbed higher and higher into the clouds (literally) the weather began to change. The temperature dropped quickly and fog set in. Soon after, the rain started and then turned to snow which was blowing full force at us. Our pace slowed to a crawl as we reached our next destination, "Froze to Death Plateau," which was also beginning to live up to its name. By the time we reached the first campsite I was soaked and freezing, my fingers were numb making it near impossible to put up a tent  or do anything else requiring dexterity. I was shaking uncontrollably from cold and Parkinson’s disease. To sum it up, I was miserable. Ryan, my boyfriend, toughed it out and managed to get the tent up and food cooking as I laid shivering in my zero degree down sleeping bag.

For the next 24 hours we endured snow storm after snow storm, high winds, cold, and fog. We had planned to hike to the Peak on Saturday, but had to delay due to weather. Saturday was a long, cold, and depressing day. We remained hunkered down in our tents on Froze to Death Plateau the entire day. The team tried to stay positive, but the idea of summiting on Sunday looked very bleak. We had come so far and now weather was keeping us from our goal. Everyone was bummed. Dave, our leader, decided if the stars were out at 04:00 on Sunday, we would make our way to Granite Peak. The odds were against us, but we clung to Hope.

Sunday morning came quickly and as Ryan and I opened the tent we saw stars, tons of beautiful twinkling stars! As we got ready we were amazed to see shooting stars all around us…finally, a good omen. We made wishes on the stars and Dave led us in a prayer. We then set out on the last stretch of our journey, over miles of boulders and rocky terrain to our destination: the top of Granite Peak.

An Awe Inspiring and Magnificent Jagged Point

We scrambled across the boulder fields for hours until we finally reached the end of Froze to Death Plateau. In the near distance we spotted Granite Peak for the first time, a magnificent jagged point jutting into the sky, it was awe-inspiring. As I peered at my rocky nemesis I felt my eyes swell with tears. I felt as though I stood in one corner of a boxing ring - a small 5 foot 1 inch girl weighing in at just over 110 pounds against the Hulk of all mountains. Yet, I knew I had a secret weapon. Unlike the mountain, I was being cheered on by a million people with Parkinson’s disease. With every step I took my determination became greater and soon I was standing at the base of Granite Peak.

Granite Peak: An Equal Opportunity Peak

As you stand at the bottom of Granite Peak and gaze upward, you can’t help but appreciate the contradiction between the raw beauty and the intimidating and unforgiving power of the mountain. To its credit, Granite Peak does not discriminate. Nor does it take pity on those climbers challenged with Parkinson’s disease. Falling back to my training, my senses heightened and my concentration focused as I began to climb upward into the ever expanding sky.

I had hoped to use many safety ropes (no one wants to fall off the side of a mountain!), but due to time constraints I put my trust in my team and my training and was able to  free climb all but two pitches on the way to the top - a pretty big feat for someone with Parkinson’s disease.

As we roped up for the second of the more challenging pitches, we were all quickly reminded that confidence does equal flawlessness. During this section a rock was kicked loose from just below my position. My immediate concern turned to the people directly below us - my best friend Kami and her husband Garret, and the rock that was now hurling directly towards them. As my view was obstructed, I spent the next five seconds overcome by fear. This was a very sobering and emotional moment for me. After what felt like a lifetime I heard Kami's voice from below "Rock!" she yelled, warning the people below them. I sobbed a sigh of relief, as I heard the rock come to a stop. My team was okay- Thank God!  As reality of what happened set in, I clung to the rock petrified with fear, wondering if I had just been defeated. "Should I go on, was it worth it, what if another rock slipped loose, or what if someone got hurt?" I was consumed by panic and apprehension.

A Need to Finish What I Started

After a moment I regained my composure and reminded myself that I was here for a reason, and I was close to accomplishing it. I needed to finish what I had started. Climbing is just like my disease; sometimes you are filled with doubt and fear and have to decide whether to let it consume you or to move past it. I moved passed it. I free climbed the last few feet to the top of Granite Peak with a humbled confidence - I had won! Proving to myself, "I have Parkinson's- Parkinson's does not have me!"
As I took my place on the granite platform that is the summit of Granite Peak, I was overcome by emotions. I cried as I thought about the strength and endurance it had taken to sit here on the top of Montana. I thought about my Great Grandmother who died in March (at the age of 90) and how she was the first person I had know with Parkinson’s disease. I remembered the members of my Parkinson’s disease support group, many of whom had signed the helmet which I wore during the climb. I can’t begin to describe the feelings and emotions I went through, it was a long, difficult, and painful journey, but completely worth it!

As I have said from the start, this climb is for everyone living and caring for people with Parkinson’s disease. This was the proudest moment of my life.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me achieve this goal! Special thanks to David (aka Dave) and JaLina Collins for their overwhelming support and encouragement along the way. Dave and JaLina were our lead climbers and I can never repay them for what they have given me. I can only offer them the same strength and support through friendship. Kami and Garret Gillispie, thank you for watching over me as you have for the past decade (and thanks for the PB&Js) I love you guys! Ryan, for following me up the highest mountain in MT and holding my hand through it all! Thanks to all the random strangers we met on the way who gave us encouragement, especially to the hikers camped at the top of froze to death who happily fed us trail mix and goldfish! Lastly, "Thank You!" to the makers of Azilect®, without such a wonderful and hopeful medication this trip might not have been possible, I'm looking forward to many more active years with Azilect®.

This is for the millions of people with Parkinson’s disease. I hope I made you proud!

Special thanks to our sponsor:

TEVA Neuroscience


Granite Peak Press