Outdoors

He wasn’t supposed to live past 16. He and his wife just conquered Mount Rainier

Despite having a lung disease, this Tri-Cities man still summited Mt. Rainier

Ross Craig was diagnosed with Cystic fibrosis as a baby. Craig talks about one of his biggest accomplishments despite having CF.
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Ross Craig was diagnosed with Cystic fibrosis as a baby. Craig talks about one of his biggest accomplishments despite having CF.

Conquering Mount Rainier would be an accomplishment for anybody, but certainly so for Ross Craig.

He has Cystic fibrosis, an often life-threatening disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system. When he was diagnosed at 3 months old, his parents were told he would likely not live past 16.

But the 35-year-old Kennewick man has been in the business of surpassing expectations all his life. Last month, he climbed Mount Rainier unguided with his wife — and he doesn’t plan on slowing down.

Craig was diagnosed younger than normal, so he started getting treatment very early in life. He said it made all the difference for him.

“My struggles with CF have been very minimal compared to most,” he said. “I grew up an athlete; my parents never held me back despite the diagnosis.”

Living with Cystic fibrosis

Playing sports as a kid was the beginning of his passion for exercise and the outdoors, and he said all the activity was probably good for his lungs.

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CJ Shane laughs while looking at her husband as she recounts how cold it was on Mt. Rainier when they made it to the top. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

“Yeah, I take a lot of pills, and yeah, I sit on a nebulizer and do treatments every day, but that is secondary medicine for me,” he said. “Activity is my first medicine. I really, truly believe if you are doing that and exercising your lungs, it’s just like any other muscle in our body, it’s going to be stronger.”

When he met his wife, CJ Shane, in 2011, he had run marathons, triathlons and done two half-ironmans. She was a backpacker, and together they were able to take their adventures to the next level.

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Ross Craig and CJ Shane inside their hiking gear room at home. They recently summitted Mt Rainier on July 14. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

One of their first dates was to Mount Rainier, and though it would be eight years until they climbed to the top, he said it set the stage for their most recent adventure.

The summit

In July, the couple mountaineered Mt. Rainier as a two-person rope team, completely unguided.

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Ross Craig resting for a moment as he climbs Mt. Rainier. Courtesy of CJ Shane

“I always say that was the peak of our relationship, no pun intended,” Craig said.

For Craig to get to altitude without symptoms, he needed more rest and nutrition than other people. Part of Cystic fibrosis is you don’t absorb everything you eat, and you deplete your electrolyte levels quickly. He drank three times as much water as his wife.

He said he felt great up until they reached the crater rim, which he said had a weather system of its own and temperatures in the single digits. That’s when they saw a guided group turn back before reaching the summit, and they started to worry.

“I was genuinely really confused,” Shane said. “Like, why are they turning around? They’ve gotten this far. I looked at Ross and I kid you not, his lips were blue. I was like, ‘Do we stop here?’ and he just goes ‘F--- no, we’re going to the top!’”

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A selfie of CJ Shane, left, and Ross Craig, right, at the top of Mt. Rainier. Courtesy of CJ Shane

In all, they only spent about two minutes at the summit. But Shane said that even if they never did make it to the top, it was still worth doing. They would have just kept trying.

“We don’t need to be the best, we don’t need to be the fastest, but we definitely do everything together,” she said.

Maya Leshikar is a Kennewick student studying journalism at the University of Washington.
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