Mother, daughter and friend – all from Naples – eye Georgian peak
Stars and Stripes March 6, 2008
CASERTA, Italy — Sierra Young-Dong thinks small.
She’d freak herself out if she thought about the big picture: In little more than two months, she’ll attempt an ascent of Europe’s highest mountain.
“I know it’s going to be hard, but I try not to think about it,” said the 15-year-old freshman at Naples High School — one of a three-woman ascent team who will attempt to summit Mount Elbrus in the Republic of Georgia. “I can only think about one piece at time, instead of about the whole task at once.”
Her mom, Yvonne Young- Dong, and family friend Jodi Pallett round out the trio. Husbands and experienced climbers Michael Dong, a special education teacher at Naples Elementary School, and Paul Frawley, a petty officer second class assigned to the Allied Joint Force Command Naples, make up their safety team.
When Sierra first thought of climbing Elbrus, she uttered a four-letter word: “cool.”
“I’ve never been to Georgia, I’ve never been to Russia, and I thought it would cool that my first time would be to climb the mountain,” said Sierra, an avid climber since she was 7.
The team trains every day to prepare for their arduous task of scaling the 18,506-foot peak in the western Caucasus Mountains.
They hit the gym, hit the tracks and hit the slopes — from rock climbing the Monte Tifata crag near Caserta to practicing using crampons and ice picks on snowcapped mountains in the Abruzzo region.
“I’m just trying to get into the best shape that I can,” said Pallett, 30, a life skills educator at the Fleet and Family Support Center at the Navy’s Naples base. Young- Dong also works at the Naples base as a supervisory human resources specialist.
Pallett is all too familiar with the rigors of the task before her. In 2002, she hiked to the Nepalese base camp of Mount Everest, about 17,600 feet.
“This for me is a great challenge and a lot of fun,” Pallett said.
That must all depend on one’s definition of fun.
For example, on Elbrus, climbers must get acclimated to the high altitudes in order to avoid getting sick and aborting the trek. Acclimation can take days, and the group has planned for several acclimatization climbs ranging from 11,500 feet to 16,400 feet.
Part of that trek involves sleeping in — if any are available — “barrel huts,” and are just as the name suggests, said Michael Dong, whose climbing experience includes volunteering for the rescue team on Mount McKinley, also known as Mount Denali, in Alaska. If the barrel huts are all booked, well, the team will dig a quincy, or trench in the snow to form a shelter.
Yes, that’s their definition of “fun,” the mother-daughter team confirmed. Sleeping huddled side-by-side can keep one pretty warm, Dong said.
Mother and daughter have aspirations of tackling Mount McKinley, which at 20,320 feet is the highest peak in North America and the most prominent feature of Denali National Park in Alaska.
Heck, while the trio is at this whole scaling mountains thing, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania tops their wish list.
While the mission affords the women and their safety team bragging rights, a sense of accomplishment and time to bond, Sierra is salivating over a reward of a different flavor.
She’s looking forward to sustaining a high-calorie diet filled with cake, banana splits, onion rings, pizza — and her favorite, Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Crunch Snacks — on her trip. She plans to eat the Cheetos on the summit.