Climbing to Olympus
By Joshua Brandon, Sierra Club Military Outdoors Organizer
We climb for many reasons. We climb to challenge ourselves and we climb for spiritual fulfillment. We climb to mark the anniversaries of our victories as well as our tragedies. Last week, our team of veterans climbed for their own personal reasons in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.
Many in our community lost friends and family in the events of that day, but far more of us mark that day as the turning point when our lives were forever changed in the conflict of the following 12 years. Regardless of various motivations, our team marks the event by challenging ourselves in the wilderness.
From September 7th to the 12th, I joined veteran climbers Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla in a traverse of Mount Olympus and the Ridge of the Gods in the wilderness of Washington State for the annual 9/11 climb.
Over the course of five and a half days, we walked and climbed 48 miles with 11,000 feet of elevation change on five peaks and two glaciers. We traveled through one of the largest temperate rainforests on the planet, steep subalpine hills, and glaciated alpine vistas that encompass some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country.
Ridge of the Gods, with objectives Athena and Athens Owl to the right.
I was proud of my team as they faced every challenge the mountain threw at us. Long distances, dangerous crevasse travel, fluctuating temperatures, and exposed climbs on rotten rock only seemed to make them stronger as the trip ground on.
Parting shot of Mt. Olympus rising above the Blue Glacier.
Dan was given no quarter on his first major glacier climb, and both he and Derek rose to the challenge in completing their first alpine-rock lead climbs. The tougher the conditions, the bigger their smiles; the more dangerous the route, the louder they laughed. I've always been lucky to have veterans like these at my side in the wilderness.
Over the course of the climb I was left with the following thought: Each of us turned to the mountains to find our way when we left the ranks, and each of us continues to lead his fellow veterans to help them find their way after the war. Like the generations of veterans who came before us, we have returned to the lands we once defended to heal.
While the lands we fought for will forever be intertwined with our lives, their importance to us is far greater than our individual purposes. These lands symbolize the very heart and soul of our nation, and our warriors are once more needed to defend them.
David Brower High Camp below Olympus.
Our wildest places define America itself, and it is in these wildest places that we will define our legacy for generations to come. We spilled our blood on foreign soil to preserve them, and now we must once again lead our countrymen in fighting to protect them. Go into wilderness to find your way, fall in love with the lands you defended, and lead our country in defending them a second time.
I'd like to personally thank Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla, above, for an amazing climb. I can't say enough about your great display of character in tough situations. I'd also like to thank Sierra Club Outdoors, Veterans Expeditions, and Suunto for their generous sponsorship of this climb.
All photos are by and with permission of Dan Wiwczar (Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Outside Adventure Film School graduate).