Summit the Shield climbers atop Mt. Rainier
Brian Houle

How an indie rock bassist and the Seattle Sounders Supporters' Shield raised thousands of dollars for cancer research | SIDELINE

On a morning in late August, as Cory Murchy finally trudged to the icy summit of Mount Rainier, a flood of simultaneous emotions coursed through him as he took in the glittering-white, craggy landscape. There was, naturally, a little confusion at surreal nature of it all: how exactly did Murchy, the bassist for Seattle indie band Minus the Bear, wind up on the tallest peak in the state of Washington?

But that momentary confusion gave way to elation. Surrounded by the mountains of the Cascade Range, Murchy and two climbing buddies hoisted their climbing talisman – the Seattle Sounders’ Supporters’ Shield.

Not only had they managed to bring along their favorite team’s silverware for a one-in-a-lifetime photo op, the trio had turned the trip into a project for the greater good: an undertaking dubbed #SummitTheShield. Their trek up the mountainside raised more than $40,000 for breast cancer research and therapy.

“Once you get up there you’re so excited and the adrenaline is going, and it’s overwhelming,” Murchy says. “And it was emotional to get up after the past five, six months of the whole fundraising aspect.”

Cory Murchy and Stuart Robertson
Photo: Joe Hammill

This Sounders-supporting, cancer-fighting fundraiser sprung from the often-intertwining worlds of soccer and rock and roll, beginning with Murchy’s own fandom, born more than a decade ago through Minus the Bear.

“We were doing so much overseas stuff with the band that for me, it really became kind of a communication tool, getting into soccer, because I was able to talk to local folks about their clubs,” he says. “It really became a thing of being on tour and hunting down soccer bars. I would just kind of gravitate there to kind of get my mind off life on the road.”

Back in his Seattle hometown, Murchy ventured to his first Sounders games when the team still played in the USL. And when the team moved to MLS in 2009, Murchy followed – as a founding season ticket-holder.

“Anyone who was in the stadium that day to watch that first game, if you weren’t a Sounders fan then, then you certainly became one,” he recalls. “It was kind of this story-book game.”

Minus the Bear continued to tour the world, releasing albums of experimental, heady fare every couple of years. As a practice, performed frequently at cancer benefits.

Then worlds collided – again. Earlier this year, Kevin Zelko, a former hardcore promoter (who also founded the Sounders supporters’ and philanthropic group Gorilla FC) long known to the band, reached out.

At the time, Zelko was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Rather than dwell on his struggles, he decided to throw a benefit concert and auction for his 40th birthday party, donating the proceeds to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Minus the Bear performed; the group raised thousands. Not long after, Zelko got the all-clear on his health.

Riding that crest of good fortune, Murchy and some other friends choose to double down. Why not decide to scale a 14,000-plus-foot-high mountain with pretty much no experience, save for the odd recreational hike? Why not set a new and even more ambitious fundraising goal, this time for breast cancer, via Seattle’s Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center?

If making something from nothing is the spirit of independent music, these guys were right for the job. To achieve their goal – to scale Mt. Rainier and raise money – they set up a fundraising Web site through Fred Hutch, laying out their project for the public, and began training.

“I personally worked up to carrying about 60 pounds of weight in a backpack, climbing up local little peaks and trying to time myself, trying to time myself, add weight, and just kind of doing that constantly,” Murchy says. “Some guys got personal trainers, some guys took rowing classes, and everyone kind of did something different.”

While the aspiring climbers were grinding away at physical preparation, donations rolled in. They came from fans of Minus the Bear, fans of the Sounders and, most surprisingly, fans of Seattle’s long-standing rival: the Portland Timbers. Donations totaled $41,988.37.

Photo by Cory Murchy

That left the little task of climbing the mountain, a trek that took three days and two nights of navigating frozen terrain on little sleep.

“You try to get some sleep, but no one’s sleeping because you wake up around midnight, and you do what’s called an alpine start," Murchy explains. "That means strapping on a headlamp on your helmet and hiking in the dark for the first three or four hours.

"You’re not only hiking in the dark but you’re roped together with two other people, and you’re climbing up a mountain in spikes and it’s crazy.”

Murchy describes the final ascent as cathartic: “Everyone was excited, because at that moment, everyone was kind of on an equal playing field because we all made it up there.”

After successfully attempting to #SummitTheShield, Murchy and his friends hope the project will inspire fans of future Shield-holding teams to do something similar.

“The next team that would get the Shield, they can do this too,” Murchy says. “They can make this worth something more than just taking cool photos with it. They can use the Shield for something good.”