Fort Mill Times

Raising awareness atop Mt. Rainier

Tony Monaco, Jeff Bodem and Kate Gruber reached the summit of Mount Rainier to raise awareness about human trafficking.
Tony Monaco, Jeff Bodem and Kate Gruber reached the summit of Mount Rainier to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Mission accomplished.

Last week, in the dark of night, Jeff Bodem climbed 14,410 feet to the summit of Mount Rainier.

But Bodem's mission was more important than the climb, he says. The Fort Mill resident, along with co-workers Tony Monaco of Charlotte and Kate Gruber of Tampa, Fla., climbed the formidable mountain to raise awareness of human trafficking.

All three work for LexisNexis, which has partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation to fight human trafficking and forced prostitution. The foundation has managed to rescue more than 4,000 girls from brothels over the past 11 years, providing shelter, counseling and job training.

At the summit of Mount Rainier, the group unfurled a banner that read "Creating a World Without Slavery."

Getting to the summit was no small feat, Bodem says. After a day of mountaineering school, the group began a 52-hour journey in the dark. Nighttime is best for climbing Mount Rainier, Bodem explains, because the icy mountain is too soft and dangerous to climb during the day.

The group crossed crevasses in temperatures that often dipped lower than 20 degrees and Bodem suffered from frostnip and altitude sickness. Rock slides were a constant concern, he says.

"I read a quote somewhere that summed it up: 'Mountaineering is the art of mastering misery,'" Bodem says. "It really was miserable. But 24 hours later you're ready to do it again."

Bodem and his team spent 45 minutes at the summit of Mount Rainier, where they saw the crater rim of the inactive volcano.

After unfurling their banner, Bodem and his team made their way back down the mountain in temperatures that reached up to 80 degrees. With ice surrounding him and the sun beating down, it was a surreal experience, Bodem says.

"It really felt like, at one point, you're on a different planet."

Bodem is already thinking about another challenge. Next, he says, he'd like to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. But his immediate plans are to continue his work with the Somaly Mam foundation.

"We really want to continue to champion that foundation," Bodem says. "I want to stay very involved in the foundation and I wouldn't rule out going to Cambodia to the orphanage."

Bodem also hasn't ruled out a second trip up Mount Rainier.

"On the mountain I said 'absolutely not.' Twenty-four hours later, a shower and a good dinner and we're already planning our next trip."

Before he's on to the next climb, Bodem also has something to say to those who supported him on the one he just completed.

"I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has stopped me to talk, written or taken the time to learn more about this cause.

"I was very moved by . . . a letter from Father Giuliani of Saint Philip Neri Church here in Fort Mill. I think he summed it up best. 'We all need to be more aware of what is going on in the world, to act and encourage others to do the same.' "