Alistair James Simmonds-Yoo

Amazon Awareness

Words/Photography: Katie Jane Wise

On the horizon, in a Portlander’s eyes (on a clear day, that is), Mt. Hood stands tall and watches over our city. A 38-mile trail navigates around Oregon’s tallest volcano, and Alistair James Simmonds-Yoo has set out to hike it in just three days. While many have proudly trekked through the volcanic rock and the 9,000-foot elevation change, few (if any) have taken it from Ali’s perspective. Alistair has set his vision far beyond the Willamette Valley, all the way down to the tropical Rainforest, which is in the full throes of crisis. 

Alistair hopes that with each step around Mt. Hood that he will be one step closer to raising $10,000 for Cool Earth, a charity that actively supports indigenous communities in the Amazon. Each step will be taken with great care, as Alistair has Hemophilia, a congenital blood disorder prohibiting normal blood clots. The symptoms are bleeding episodes, usually in soft muscle tissue, as a result of minor-trauma or strenuous activity. Something as simple as putting too much pressure on one foot can rupture several blood vessels, and to once again reach homeostasis, Alistair must intravenously infuse proteins into his bloodstream. 

I had the opportunity to speak with Alistair about his fundraising journey. Here’s what he had to say. 

Where did you originate?

I was born in Chester, which is a small city near Liverpool and Manchester in the UK. Other than York, it’s the only place in the UK where you can circumscribe the old Roman walls, so, you get a sense of how big the city was 2,000 years ago. It’s the kind of place where not much changes. 

What brought you to the United States?

Initially, I came out for work – having been offered a gig for a small tech research and consultancy group. I spent my days reading about niche projects that were trying to involve distributed computing systems.

Then I stopped doing that job. A few months earlier, I had fallen in love with a beautiful girl from the east coast. We were lucky enough to get married in the Rhododendron Gardens in Portland. We will be returning to Europe for another marriage ceremony in March. 

When are you beginning your journey?

The start date is on the twenty-third of September. 

What are the specs of the hike? 

So, it’s a bit of a classic trail, and it starts from the Timberline Lodge, which is a Rooseveltian-New Deal type structure. It is at an elevation of 6,000 feet, which is a little over half the peak of Mt. Hood’s altitude, which is just over 11,000 feet. You’re starting just where the treeline turns into slightly barren, volcanic rock. The whole hike is 38 miles circumventing Mt. Hood, Oregon’s tallest volcano. You may expect the hike to be reasonably flat, however, because it’s a wild area. You end up going down and climbing back up in total a 9,000-foot elevation gain. It’s quite a lot of work with all of the necessary supplies on your back. All of that climbing is a third the height of where a commercial aircraft cruises. 

How long will it take you to circumvent Mt. Hood?

It’s only a 3-day hike. Some people do it in two. Some crazy people run it in one. Usually, it’s advised to give yourself four days and three nights. I’m shooting for about 13 miles a day, which is manageable, but it’s the kind of terrain where you need to watch every step, so you don’t twist your ankle or fall off an edge. 

Over those 3-days you will be raising money for Cool Earth. Can you explain why you decided to fundraise for this charity?

The need to preserve the Rainforest has never been greater. In the past 40 years, we’ve lost half of the world’s forests. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Currently, about a hundred different insects, animals, and plants are lost every day. 

In this context, the Rainforest is the lungs of the planet and is essential to the global biosphere. I’ve chosen a charity that is regarded as one of the most effective in the world – from many perspectives, including David Attenborough’s. Cool Earth have partnerships with 118 local indigenous communities. Although 118 villages might not sound like a lot, each village is instrumental in forming a protective shield around some 5 million acres of Rainforest. 

It’s a tremendously impactful means of locking up some 230 million tons of carbon dioxide by leaving the trees standing. The big problem is that globally, 350 million people live in Rainforests. That’s just over a third of a billion people, and they are entitled to the same luxuries and the same decencies of life as we like to think we have in developed countries.

We need to equip them with the tools to participate in the global world and also protect the beautiful Rainforest, which has spiritual, cultural, and communitarian significance to them. This means providing alternatives to slashing and burning (to turn the land to agricultural land) in order to grow beef for Western consumers. We can cut this out on the supply side by helping them to earn via cash crops like coffee, create sustainable fishing initiatives, and (importantly) providing better access to education. Both legal and illegal commercial logging are risks to the villages as there are frequent stories of loggers murdering innocent villagers. Focusing the international community on these villages and giving them the resources they need to help preserve the area around them is essential. 

This is all of immense import to the global water system. If we lost all of the forest that Cool Earth help preserve, we would lose a fifth of the world’s freshwater. Out of all of the world’s remaining forests, only 24% are considered intact with the rest being degraded or incomplete. So, we are looking at a quarter of the global forestry which is still a rich biodiversity that you’d expect, subtracting any areas that have been affected by industrialization. It’s incredibly important that we preserve the little left that is still wild.

Were the fires in the Amazon what enacted you to jumpstart this fundraiser?

I’ve been talking about doing this for about six months, but I was struggling to find the central message. I didn’t know if I was going to mention that I’m a hemophiliac and run with the public feeling of enabling people with disabilities or some biological inconvenience. What frustrated me was my awareness of the Rainforest’s periodic appearance in the news cycle. It’s the inability of the collective consciousness and pragmatic action not to enact long term solutions to the apparent degradation of the Rainforest that frustrates me. Even when it is on the front page of the news, it’s only on for a few days, and then it’s gone. There’s a massive burden on the international community to help lift developing countries out of poverty and include them in the global economy without a tremendous cost to their environment.

You mentioned that you have Hemophilia, how will that affect your journey around Mt. Hood?

I’m fortunate to have a moderate form of Hemophilia. I don’t need to take prophylactic injections unless I’m doing intense or high-risk physical activity. Some folks have an even lower percentage of the protein essential to one’s blood clotting. Some people have an injection every day of their lives if they don’t want to suffer spontaneous bleeding activity. My more moderate form means I can go good stints without an injection. I’ve had a psychological battle with my hemophilia my whole life, towards realizing what I’m capable of and not allowing myself to be restricted by a genetic abnormality. For me, it’s been about not letting the fear of inflicting a bleeding episode in my muscle (by doing something too strenuous which ruptures the blood vessels) prevent me from being happy and pushing my boundaries personally. When needed, the medicine is an intravenous infusion of a protein to help my blood start clotting. That process usually involves rest. I was able to take sports in when I was a teenager and go on hikes around mountains in Wales. I’d take a box of treatment and a field hospital of antiseptic wipes etc.. I’d be able to hike all day through the mud and still be able to clean myself up just enough, have a (semi-)sterile environment in my tent, and give myself an injection. I was doing this when I was about fourteen. In a sense, it’s only as much of a barrier as you allow it to be. I hope to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone. I also want to encourage people to advocate for groups that they aren’t necessarily a part of.