On Feb. 5, when his colleagues at Graham Fire and Rescue were responding to an unthinkable tragedy, Jared Bonea paid tribute to them from the highest point in the Western and Southern hemispheres.
Bonea, a firefighter and paramedic who also guides mountaineering expeditions, posed for a picture on top of 22,831-foot Aconcagua in Argentina. He was holding what appeared to be a small blue banner with white and red words that read “Graham Fire Rescue.”
It was actually a section of an old shirt he cut out to honor his friends.
“It’s a pretty unique family,” he said of his colleagues. “You spend a third of your working years with that group of people.”
Unbeknownst to him, that same morning his friends were responding to a deadly house fire started by Josh Powell, who used the inferno to kill himself his two young sons.
It was a couple of days later when Bonea heard the word via satellite phone. “I shared in their pain the best I could,” he said.
It was a day that showed the dichotomy of the lines of work Bonea is so passionate about. One is there to help people on their worst days. In the other, he’s hired to help people enjoy some of the best days of their lives.
“Both aspects are very humbling,” Bonea said. “In guiding, 99 percent of the time things end on a high note even if you don’t reach the summit. As a firefighter and medic they call us to hopefully make a difference.”
Bonea has climbed Mount Rainier about 60 times and used to guide for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. in Ashford. Currently he works full time as a firefighter and medic, and guides occasionally for Leavenworth’s Northwest Mountain School. The guide service is founded by former RMI and International Mountain Guide employees John and Olivia Race.
Bonea says he’s able to find flexibility in his work schedule to guide a few trips each year. The Aconcagua expedition took 22 days. The hard part, said the Tacoma resident, is giving up time with his family.
This year’s trip was his second ascent of the tallest peak in the Andes Mountains. He was the only guide on the trip, leading a banker from Iowa and a speech pathologist from the East Coast toward the summit.
Aconcagua is a popular international climbing destination for a couple of reasons. It’s one of the Seven Summits, the climbing goal of scaling the highest peak on each continent. It’s also a good training ground for the shorter (20,320 feet) but more technical Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.
Bonea has guided trips on both mountains and loves helping people reach these goals.
He calls guiding “A privileged spot.”
“You get to be present for folks at some of the most challenging times they have experienced physically and moments that will be highlights for them,” Bonea said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Most of the clients are at the top of their professional fields and are used to being the ones who make the decisions, Bonea said.
“They are pretty driven and successful and they are not looking for the easiest way to the top,” Bonea said.
But in the mountains they are more vulnerable and Bonea’s job is to help them with everything from staying safe to making sure they remember to wipe their nose.
He says spending weeks with people in these intimate settings often forges lasting relationships.
Bonea says expeditions like this “charge his batteries” and that he considers himself lucky to have the opportunity to help people in both his lines of work.
As for what’s next, he’s not sure. He’s guided on all seven continents and doesn’t necessarily having a climbing to-do list. “I’ll just see how my aspirations continue to evolve.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 Craig.firstname.lastname@example.org Blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure Twitter.com/AdventureGuys