From March 3rd to the 7th, Sierra Club Military Outdoors partnered with Veterans Expeditions on our annual veteran ice climbing trip to Hyalite Canyon, outside of Bozeman Montana. It is this week of natural beauty, camaraderie, and mental and physical challenge that makes this one of the best weeks of the year for me in the SCMO program. I personally left refreshed and committed to exploring the outdoors with my fellow warriors, having accomplished my first lead ice climb under the watchful eye of Conrad Anker, all the while basking in the glory of one of our great wild places. Far more satisfying was that I witnessed veterans and active duty service members achieve far more than they thought they could on steep pitches of ice. I watched their spirits rise and their demeanor change as they developed close bonds with their fellow climbers and were transformed by the beautiful canyon around them.
Navy Captain Bruce Black: "A common theme I have heard from all of my fellow service members that have retired is that it is very difficult to find that sense of camaraderie in the civilian world that you find so readily in the military. The ice climbing trip in Hyalite Canyon was a chance to see that camaraderie still exists, you just have to know where to look for it. As I get close to completing my 30 years of active duty service and look at that transition to post military life I know that I want to surround myself with those veterans that have served their country.
Whatever branch we served in we have a common bond and a common ethos that will stay with us through our active duty journey and post service lives. The five days of ice climbing allowed me to spend quality time with people that have the same common bond but have gone in different directions after the military and it showed me that I am going to be all right as I head off to my next career. I never thought that I would find a sense of resilience and peace with a group of 14 people I had never met before, in an area of the country I had never been to before doing a sport that I had very little experience with but I did. Ironically, as I look back on my active duty service, this one week will be one of the memories that I hold closest."
Army First Sergeant Mike Pickerel: "Sierra Club Military Outdoors is simple and brilliant. Ice climbing for my first time with this group was everything I could ask for. The contracted guide service was more than helpful, knowledgeable and safe. We were even fortunate enough to have one of America’s greatest climbers of Conrad Anker to not only give motivation and climb with us, but coaching and assisting in improving climbing techniques. The selected group of veterans was of different back grounds and experiences. We had a great common denominator throughout us and that was we all were people of strong resilience, military background, a passion for the outdoors and a drive to excel in the path that lay ahead.
Using outdoors as your sanctuary is not anything new, throughout the ages this has been a place people of all types have come to relax, think and just find themselves. The fact that Sierra Club is reaching out to the Military as an audience for this is quite awesome. Hyalite Canyon was a beautiful piece of land with great ice climbing and views to be lost in as you gained the elevation on each pitch. I wish to give a thanks to SCMO for such an opportunity to learn a new skill, enjoy and meet new and other veterans who enjoy nature, and a chance for me to get back to nature in it’s rare beauty."
Read more about the trip in the following articles by Chris Kassar and Stacy Bare.
A special thanks to the North Face, Black Diamond, Petzl, and Outdoor Research for their support on this trip. I'd also like to thank Sam Magro from Montana Mountain Guides and Conrad Anker for their professionalism, great spirits, and good company.
We have a great year ahead of us with trips to Cedar Mesa Utah, the Veteran Film School in the North Cascades, the Birth of Rivers trek with Paradox Sports, and the Ptarmigan Traverse in the Pickets. Check out the SCMO site for more information.