"It's one of those things that, it bit me and now I'm pretty well hooked on it," Charles "Chuck" Knauff said of his climb to the top of Mount Rainier in Ashford, Wash.
Knauff, 48, a Williamsport resident and project manager for a construction management firm based out of Harrisburg, completed the climb alongside six others in August.
He spent five days at Mount Rainier, training and climbing, with the ascent to the summit and back down to the base camp taking just under four hours.
"When you're standing there looking at it (the mountain), it looks fake," Knauff said. "You never get tired of looking at it."
Two years ago, Knauff came across a documentary on ESPN depicting the mountaineering experiences of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL dignitaries, who climbed Mount Rainier as a fundraiser to benefit charities. Their challenges sparked his interest in making the climb himself.
After researching the climb, he knew he had a lot of hard work ahead of him physically, in order to be able to make it to the top, not to mention back down again.
Rainier's top elevation is 14,410 feet. It is the highest peak in Washington state and one of the most glaciated peaks, according to Knauff.
Once Knauff signed up with Rainier Mountaineering Inc., he had 11 months to train before the climb.
"Knowing the shape I was in at the time, I knew I had my work cut out for me," he said.
It was a slow process, he explained. When he began training, he was suffering from severe arthritis and he said it got to the point where he didn't even want to walk, let alone hike or climb.
His physician put him on medication to subdue the pain and he continued to train, determined to achieve his goal.
He began vigorous training in January, knowing he had to consolidate a year's worth of workouts into a six-month period before the climb.
Most of his training was done on his own and he lost 25 pounds working out for the climb by doing strength and cardio training as well as a lot of hiking.
Knauff and a few friends went to Vermont in June to climb Mount Washington, which is 6,000 feet at its top so he could start to get used to the elevation and get training in for the more intense climb.
The first day Knauff was at Mount Rainier, he and his climbing group went through orientation at base camp - Camp Muir - at 10,000 feet.
The guides made everyone pull out all of their gear from their packs to go through it and make sure they had everything they needed for the climb.
Knauff said the guides taught everyone how to climb while being tethered together by rope, how to recover from falls and also how to climb with crampons - long, sharp spikes attached to boots to provide a better grip in snow and ice.
After camping overnight at Camp Muir, they spent the following day climbing to Ingrahm Flats at 11,200 feet for acclimation day and returned to Camp Muir for the night.
"The altitude really took a toll on your physical ability or even to function," Knauff said.
The group went to bed around 6 p.m. the night before the ascent to the top of the mountain, but Knauff only was able to take in about an hour of sleep before waking up at 11 p.m., struggling with himself as to whether or not he should try to make the climb.
"I'm laying there, I got a stuffed-up head, I couldn't breathe," he said. "A stuffed-up head at 11,000 feet isn't pleasant. I was thinking, 'There's no way I'm going up.' "
After strapping on headlamps, the group began the ascent at midnight.
"I couldn't eat and was freaking out from adrenaline and anxiety," Knauff said. "The next thing you know, we are donning ropes and he (the guide) said, 'Let's go,' and we started and before I knew it, I was fine."
Knauff said by starting the climb at midnight, it allowed for cooler climbing conditions up the mountain. If they had started later in the day, the sun would have been beating down on them and it would have made it much more difficult.
"You're climbing up this mountain in pure dark," Knauff said. "It's probably not a bad thing because coming back down, seeing what we went up, it's very intimidating."
Knauff said the group took four breaks at about 15 to 20 minutes each, where they were instructed to eat and drink as much as they could before starting out again.
When they reached 13,500 feet - their last break site before reaching the summit - the sun was just starting to break over the horizon. Knauff said the view was breathtaking, but he was so exhausted and weak that he didn't even care to take his camera out for pictures.
Around 6:45 a.m., they reached the summit, rested and took in the view for about an hour.
"Once you get up there, it's a huge relief for about five seconds and then you start thinking, 'How am I going to get back down?' " he said.
The trek back down the mountain was harder than going up. Knauff described it as brutal.
"We came back down that hill so fast it was unreal," Knauff said. "It was extremely painful. Your calves and thighs get beat up, and my feet were already sore ... My feet got wet, and I got blisters."
After all of his hard training and the pain, making it to the top of Mount Rainier and back down, he now says he is hooked and plans to make the climb again in two years.
He already has booked his next climb for this December. He plans to conquer Mount Cotopaxi, a 19,348-foot active volcano just outside of Quito, Ecuador.
He also plans to someday attempt Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, about a 19,340-foot climb.
Knauff said he wants to keep booking climbs as often as possible.
"One, I want that incentive to keep working out and stay in shape," he said, "and two, it was just an incredible experience."