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Climbing legend Mark Cartier on Mount Hood in 2012. Photo by Richard Hallman

There is a large, gorgeous photograph on the wall at Jarod Cogswell’s new FIT Academy in Beaverton that is a source of inspiration and motivation for Cogswell and his many Mount Hood friends.

It is a picture of climbing legend Mark Cartier, and it was taken by the great Mount Hood photographer Richard Hallman in 2012, just weeks before Cartier fell 1,000 feet and died in a climbing accident on the mountain.

Cartier’s death at age 56 was a tragedy for his family and friends, and it hit his climbing partner Cogswell hard. The two friends were scheduled to leave in a few days to climb the North Ridge of Mount Stewart when Cogswell heard the news that a solo climber had died on Mount Hood. After learning that it was his friend who had died, Cogswell spent a devastating day riding up to the mountain with Cartier’s wife Deb Weekley, son Bryce Cartier, and his climbing buddy Michael Lemming, to identify Cartier’s body.

A week after the tragedy, Cogswell led Cartier’s family on a memorial trip to the mountain with Cartier's wife Deb, his son, Bryce, his daughter, Lauren and a very close group of Hood climbing friends that have since become a tight family. He ended up taking Cartier’s son Bryce all the way up for his first summit, and they spread Cartier’s ashes from the top of Mount Hood.

That day same day they spread Cartier’s ashes, another climber fell and needed help, and Cogswell set out to assist friends and colleagues from Portland Mountain Rescue with the rescue effort.

For those reasons and others, Cogswell is determined to make his new FIT Academy in Beaverton much more than just another gym. He wants to build a place to nurture mind, body and spirit, and to forge a sense of community that inspires people to get out there and “do something meaningful,” whether it’s summiting the mountain for the 200th time or running your first-ever 5K.

“Exercise is the foundation,” he says. “But I want there to be a feel to the place, a certain mindset. If we are focused and aware and intentional, we actually can change people’s lives.”

'I would not trade that one run for 30 runs at the resort.'

Cogswell, 43, is a fitness industry veteran who travels the country speaking to coaches and trainers about working like an athlete and building a powerful team culture. He grew up in California, shredding Mammoth Mountain, getting up early before work to climb up and snowboard down.

Since moving from Mammoth Lakes to Oregon in 1999, Cogswell has met some of his best friends on the slopes of Mount Hood. He has summited 79 times, and he has been a member of Portland Mountain Rescue since 2010.

He calls Mount Hood “a church as well as a playground… You can do so many things on that mountain to revive your spirit.”

His personal favorite way to enjoy the mountain is climbing up and shredding down.”There’s just something about the backcountry that feeds the soul,” he says. “I love the north side of the mountain, I love going up to Mount St. Helens. I would not trade that one run for 30 runs at the resort.”

Cogswell has climbed, snowboarded, skied and snowshoed all over Mount Hood. He also nearly died on the summit.

Before he was a member of PMR, in 2003, Cogswell set off for the summit with four climbing friends in decent weather that turned ugly quickly. They got caught in a brutal storm, and needed to dig a hole at the summit and climb in for protection until the rescue team arrived.

Here is his account of that experience:

We were climbing the Reid Headwall, and I was with an advanced snow and ice group from the Mazamas. There was no weather up to about 9800 feet. It was really cold, it was January 13th. And then it turned. I just remember being in a belay spot for like an hour and not moving. We got stuck in really bad weather and it took us probably eight hours from there to reach the summit, and we still didn’t know we were on the summit. It was blowing 50-plus miles an hour.

There was a team of three and a team of two, and we all had to rope up. It was dark, there was a crazy blizzard and you couldn’t hear anything, the wind was so loud. We were communicating by pulling on the rope. We couldn’t hear each other. It was probably 6 or 7 at night, winds are just ferocious, and I’m cleaning the gear and my headlamp falls off. And I don’t know how it happened but I went like this — and I caught it in my hand. I was so freaked out about losing my headlamp, I was trying to get my breathing back. Because I needed to see where I was going. And you could barely see where you were going anyhow, even with the headlamp. But I  did not want to lose mine.

The idea was to get to the summit, find the easy way down, and get the hell out of there. But you just couldn’t see anything, and nothing looked right. So we all regrouped about 200 feet below the summit. We were just screaming at each other because we couldn’t hear anything. And I said, ‘Guys, I hate to be the one to say this, but we’ve got to dig a hole.’ It hadn’t snowed much recently, it had been a light snow year, so our hole sucked. It was terrible. But it still took us three hours to dig that thing. And the guy next to me, I didn’t think he was gong to make it through the night. We were all shivering out of control. You can’t control your body when that happens, your muscles are completely beyond your control. I never want to feel that again. You knew when it was coming but you couldn’t do anything about it. It hurt horribly. If you fell asleep you woke up shivering. And we went something like 36 hours without water. We didn’t have a stove.

And then in the middle of the night, about 3 in the morning, one of the guys to my left, said, ‘Hey guys, stay calm, don’t freak out, but the hole is closed.’ And all of a sudden we realize, we are not breathing any air. We had this whole strategy for staying calm, not breathing too much, and we’re doing everything we can to kick through but the snow was so heavy. It was that crusty Cascade crap, and we could not punch through. So finally I somehow got my head and just started burrowed through, and we got out. All of our stuff was buried. We didn’t know where any of our backpacks were. And for the rest of the night we were freaked out about the hole filling up again, so we were always on watch.

We did have cell service, and I called [Erik] Broms. He had just joined PMR at the time. We didn’t want a rescue but these guys were like 'No way. We’re coming to get you. Stay put.’ We decided if they’re not here by noon, we’re gonna find a way out. We were unpacking, trying to find our stuff in the snow, when PMR showed up. It took them six hours from the top of Palmer to get to us. That’s how bad it was. Marty Johnson was the first one to get to us in the snow cave. I remember that moment. He gets up there and goes, “Are you mobile?” I said 'Yeah,' and he said, ‘Let’s grab your shit and get the fuck out of here.’ Sounds good to me.

At that time I had climbed Mount Hood about 15 times, but when we were coming down, it didn’t look like Mount Hood to me. And we were seeing all sorts of stuff. We had had no water, we’d been up all night. We were just tripping out. But we made it.

That experience helped motivate Cogswell to join PMR and help others on the mountain, and he has been involved in many search-and-rescue operations since going through the training.

“PMR is amazing,” he says. “There’s so much giving, so much personal sacrifice for the cause. Because these guys and gals are passionate about helping people. And they love their mountain.”

'I've got one shot at this.'

Of course, the act of opening a fitness center is not a matter of life or death. But for Cogswell this 15-employee, 12,000-square-foot enterprise filled with weights, studios, a turf field and exercise machines represents the culmination of his life’s work, and a huge responsibility and opportunity.

“It’s lot of hours, a lot of work, a lot of fear,” he says of launching his own business for the first time. “The rent is not cheap. And you’ve got investors counting on you. But it’s different and it’s exciting, and it’s mine.”

He says he thinks often of his climbing buddy Cartier, and he put the big photo of him on the wall of the FIT Academy for a reason.

“Mark’s passing was my change,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘You know what? I got one shot at this. And I'm not gonna miss it.’… I just decided that all that hurt, I was going to turn it into honor. And all that stuff has gotten me here.”

Cogswell's FIT Academy at 9140 SW Hall Blvd is both hiring and signing up new members. Check the FIT website for more information.