Climbing for Unity on 9/11
On September 11, four groups of veterans made mountaineering summit attempts to commemorate 9/11, in Washington's North Cascades, Wyoming's Tetons, Colorado's San Juans, and New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Above, the Washington group near the summit of 9,131-foot Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades. From left to right, Marine Corps vets Shenandoah Sanchez and Daniel Sidles, KAF Adventures guide Trevor Ellsworth, and Air Force Reserve vet Jason Wheeler. (Lead KAF guide Jason Wheeler took the photo.) The Semper Fi Fund is a non-profit organization that provides immediate financial support for injured or critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
Below, the Mt. Shuksan team ascending steep snow fields near the summit.
The four climbs were sponsored and guided by the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program in conjunction with Veteran's Expeditions, Paradox Sports, Big City Mountaineers, Sportainability, and Telluride Adaptive Sports.
Mission Outdoors Director Stacy Bare, a decorated veteran of the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq conflicts, and fellow vet Nick Watson launched the first 9/11 commemorative climb up Longs Peak in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park in 2010 with eight other veterans. Last year, Bare helped train and lead eight more vets in a successful ascent of Wyoming's Grand Teton to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Tommy Carroll, who has a prosthetic left leg below the knee, was among the veterans who climbed New Hampshire's Mt. Washington this year. Below left, Carroll leads the way up Tuckerman Ravine on the mountain's eastern flank, with fellow vets Nick Watson and Steve Arsenault close behind; below right, Carroll atop the summit.
What follows is a first-person account by Shenandoah Sanchez (at far left in photo below) of his group's ascent of Mt. Shuksan.
From September 8-11, I was a member of the Summit For Someone Veterans Climb team on Mt. Shuksan, Washington. It's a great program that serves an even greater cause. As an infantry Marine for almost 20 years, I have spent many nights outdoors, extreme and otherwise; but I had never undertaken the challenge of climbing a mountain. The reasons why I did are simple: I have a true love for the outdoors; and in a world that can be complex and dark at times, I purposefully seek the beautiful moments and opportunities that exist within it.
This climb did not disappoint. It was one of the most arduous events I have ever undertaken, yet it was truly one of the most rewarding. When the team first came together I felt as though I'd made four new friends; by the time we came down from the mountain I felt as though I had four new brothers...to my fellow veterans (Aaron and Dan) and the amazing leaders and professionals at KAF Adventures (Jason and Trevor), thank you; I would climb with you on any other trip or any other occasion without hesitation. Jason and Trevor, your professionalism, leadership, mentorship, and instruction was outstanding; you literally welcomed us with open arms, looked to our welfare and treated us like family. This left a tremendous impression and I am forever grateful for that experience.
What I learned on the climb cannot be summarized into few words; a week removed from the experience I continue to realize new lessons. Still, I have tried to capture of few of those wonderful nuggets below:
What I learned about "life" while on the mountain...
- I learned that the mountain, like life, is there: unmoving, perpetual, challenging, seemingly daunting, waiting to be climbed, beautiful. It's not coming to you, rather all the effort must be yours.
- The way up had peaks, valleys, obstacles, objective hazards; sometimes it was easy, most of the time it was tough. Yet, despite where our immediate path took us—up, down or sideways—as we kept our eyes on the prize our overall relative movement was ever upward and higher.
- Whether climbing a mountain or living your life, one must travel light. If you're overloaded with baggage you're not going to make it. Figure out what you really need and take only those most important things. That will keep you light, allow you to move and keep you alive.
- The climb was full of hazards seen and unseen; objective, mental, fatigue-induced, weather-related, etc. This in turn required planning, training, concentration, good decisions, rest, food, water, keeping a level head, teamwork…
- Teamwork/Friendship. You live or die by the rope team. When we were roped up, we worked together; protected, helped, depended on and motivated each other. Danger was minimized, fear was reduced, we moved efficiently; stronger. As is written in the bible, "the three braided cord is not easily broken…"
- Sometimes the path or the pitch on the objective route may not be the most direct. It may require more planning, re-assessment, effort, backtracking or circumventing. Remain motivated, flexible and focused.
- More important than just getting to the top was enjoying the moments along the way; the camaraderie, the surroundings, the beauty…
These are just a few lessons—there are so many more. I am sure that I will continue to learn from the experience long after I have been off the mountain. What I am also sure of is that the experience surpassed all my expectations and that I will return…"
Editor's note: The Shuksan group was turned back 300 feet shy of the summit by treacherous snoow, ice, and falling rock caused by a storm the previous day. But Sanchez says not making the summit "didn't diminish the trip at all. The experience as a whole was amazing, period. I know I have found a new calling in mountaineering. And the way I see it, Shuksan isn't going anywhere. Lord willing, I'll give it another go."