Climbing Everest is not for the faint of heart. It’s one of the toughest, longest climbs in the world. On the North face, you not only have to fight altitude sickness, you also have to navigate a 1,000 foot sheer ice wall. It’s a 33-hour endurance trek into the thin blue nothing of Earth’s upper atmosphere and back down again to the Advanced Base Camp (ABC). The whole journey will take two months of your life, usually between April and June. Plus over 50,000 of your dollars. This isn’t for the average Instagram backpacker. It’s real adventure with real life or death stakes. The North Face has a 4.1% fatality rate overall. That’s about a 1 in 30 chance you’re not going to make it. Your chances of dying on the airplane on your way to Everest are 1 in 11,000,000 by comparison. The mountain has had its share of tragedy over the last three seasons. So it’s a relief to get some good news this year.
Charlie Linville is a Marine. He served in Fallujah in 2007 to 2008; in 2010, he was in Afghanistan disarming IEDs. In 2011, Linville was on the wrong end of a tertiary explosion. After two years of trying to save his foot, he had to finally submit to an amputation below the knee. This didn’t stop him from pursuing his love of the outdoors and climbing. Less than a year later, Linville was at the Mount Everest base camp ready to attempt the summit for The Heroes Project — an initiative which gives wounded veterans a chance to test themselves against nature. In 2014, an avalanche stopped Linville from summiting. In 2015, it was an earthquake. 2016 was Charlie’s year, he summited last week and is on his way back down.
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12:30 pm May 19, 2016 Nepali time. The Heroes Project was the first team to reach the summit from the Tibet northface of Everest putting the first combat wounded veteran on top of the world. The founder and expedition leader of The Heroes Project, Tim Medvetz, took a chance on an early summit bid when no other teams would. The winds on the summit were reaching 50mph when the team left their high camp at 3:30 am. It took them 9 hours, reaching the summit at 12:30pm, changing USMC SSGT Charlie Linville's life and hopefully inspiring more injured veterans to overcome their injuries from the war.
Last Tuesday, Chad Jukes, retried Army gunner, summited Everest along with active duty officers Harold Earls and Elise Ping Medvigy. Jukes lost his leg in Iraq in 2006. To battle his ongoing PTSD, Jukes dove back into nature and outdoor sports. He contacted Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Everest, and within weeks they were climbing a 400-foot-high frozen waterfall in the Colorado Rockies together. A passion for wild places was the therapy that Jukes needed to survive. He and his team climbed with the USX, an organization that sends soldiers and veterans on hiking expeditions to raise awareness and funds for wounded soldiers and those suffering from PTSD.
52,435 U.S. military personnel have been wounded in our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. According the VA, at least 60% of returning soldiers suffer some form of psychological trauma. We spend $166 billion a year in medical and veteran’s funding every year. And it still isn’t enough. Any extra help provided by organizations like Heroes Project and USX are becoming crucial to giving wounded veterans and active duty soldiers a chance to regain a sense of themselves and encounter some serious natural beauty.