Last week, the Touch the Top Team and I spent a morning climbing with some local youth from the Redirection Center in Littleton, Colorado, which helps kids work through some of the challenges they face, both from circumstance and choices.
The Redirection Center partners with a great local organization called the Binning Family Foundation, to facilitate an experiential outdoor program throughout the year with activities like hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing. For the last several weeks the kids have been learning about climbing, so it was fun watching/listening to them test their safety skills: putting on harnesses, tying figure eight knots, and calling climbing commands.
However, I think the coolest part was getting to belay as the kids tested their strength and courage on some over hanging routes that really pushed their limits. Can you believe they trusted their lives to a blind belayer? A few brave students even reciprocated by donning blindfolds to give “no sight” climbing a try.
I also spoke to the group about alchemy, a philosophy I try to live my own life by. Alchemy is the ability to turn led into gold, not just by surviving life challenges, but harnessing them to propel ourselves to new, bold, and profound places. I pray they took it to heart as they continue to learn, grow, and transform.
Last Friday, our film High Ground, highlighting the struggles of injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they re-enter a civilian world, was shown at USCENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) in Tampa. Major General Michael Garrett presided over our visit. We learned such a screening was unprecedented in USCENTCOM history, a huge honor for us all.
High Ground portrays our first Soldiers to Summits (S2S) program, culminating in the climb of a steep and icy Lobuche, 20,075 feet and eight miles from Everest. I was in Tampa with S2S participants Steve Baskis and Aaron Hale, both blinded on the battlefield. They added a lot of reality to this very powerful story. This showing was arranged by Major Brian Smith, an S2S supporter from the outset, now a member of our Advisory Board, who is based at USCENTCOM.
USCENTCOM is our military command for the Mideast (minus Israel), from Egypt to Pakistan. Security there was extremely tight, with frequent electronic screenings of individuals in between closed doors, and with rooms electronically swept for bugs after people exited a critical office.
High Ground was produced by Don Hahn of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King fame, and directed by Michael Brown, who produced the award-winning documentary of my Everest climb, Farther Than the Eye Can See. The power of High Ground was evident in the emotional response of MG Garrett – who has commanded many combat forces – as he made closing remarks to the mostly military audience.
High Ground engenders heightened respect for our service men and women who volunteer to serve our country, and especially for those soldiers who incur life-changing war injuries. We owe them all our great thanks.
It is utterly amazing to witness individuals who push themselves to show the world what determination, teamwork, and a common vision can accomplish.
Imagine cross-country skiing nine miles a day with a total of 208 miles over the course of 16 days in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit and winds blasting against you at 50mph. To add icing on the cake, put yourself in the shoes of someone pulling 154 pounds on an arctic sledge with your eyes and hearts set on the vision of reaching the South Pole.
As some of you know, this is the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge, a project No Barriers has taken on. Three teams of wounded servicemen and women are challenging themselves mentally and physically to show the world the courage veterans have after sustaining physical and cognitive injuries. Their ability to take on adversity after serving in the military, and facing life-altering injury is in itself inspirational. The teams departed on November 14, 2013. Their aim is to reach the South Pole around December 17, 2013. Way to go No Barriers and the staff for supporting such a great cause!
Back in August, at the No Barriers Summit in Telluride, I met the entire team. Just last week they were honored to meet the Queen of England. I have been telling my friends I am only two people away from knowing the Queen of England! I am figuring out if I can make this into one of my good jokes or not . . . jury is still out. Either way, it gets me talking about the South Pole Allied Challenge and what a significant expedition this is, to reach across the globe and along the way touch civilians, active service members, and veterans.
My friend, Charley Mace, with whom I climbed Everest, has been training the US Team for the last year. Thanks Charley for helping the Team! The three teams taking on the challenge are the US Team, which No Barriers is supporting, the second is from the UK, and the third is a combination of Australians and Canadians, referred to as the Commonwealth. To show support for veterans, Prince Harry, who is an active duty Captain in the British Army is accompanying the team.
The South Pole Allied Challenge is truly a living testimony of the No Barriers Mindset, “What’s inside of you is stronger than what’s in your way.” To give you an example of one of the individuals on the team, meet Mark Wise.
Mark served as an (Army) infantry officer in the First Battalion. During his time in Afghanistan in 2009 Mark was involved in an IED incident where he suffered from partial hand/forearm amputation, facial damage, and burns. Mark doesn’t see his experience as a reason to take a step back from serving but rather as another reason to keep going. Here is a quote from Mark, “As a leader of soldiers your responsibility never ends. I feel obligated to continue to set the example for those who follow not only in my footsteps as a wounded service member, but also for those returning home from combat.” To learn more about the team click here.
To learn more about the SPAC Challenge of 2013 and see current updates please visit the link to Walking with the Wounded’s website: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013/
If you would like to support the US Team please visit the link here: https://nobarriers.fundraise.com/southpole
Below are some of the videos on the South Pole Allied Challenge of 2013
A short video describing the SPAC of 2013: http://www.soldierstosummits.org/The-Program-Allied-South-Pole-2013-Challenge.aspx
Video on the departure of the teams on November 14, 2013: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013/video/
Come join me and my guide, Jeff Ulrich, at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine a week from today at the New England Blind and Visually Impaired Ski Festival. We will be giving a clinic on the best method for guiding blind skiers and it’s open to anyone. I will also be giving a talk Sunday night on developing a No Barriers mindset.
Jeff and I have perfected a system that is far superior to the traditional technique of guiding from behind. Instead, Jeff leads and uses his voice to not only direct me but also give guidance on the shape of my turns. This allows me to ski more naturally and athletically instead of zigzagging down the slope. You can learn more about this pioneering system at Blind Skiers Edge.
The cost for the 4-day festival is between $365 and $535, which includes lift tickets and lodging. Sugarloaf is the second highest mountain in Maine and has over 400 acres and 80 trails open so there is something for everyone.
If you are in San Diego, Austin, Washington DC, Seattle, or Houston, then you have an opportunity to see the movie High Ground in the first week of October. If you aren’t in one of those areas or if you can’t make the date already set up, then you can arrange to host your own screening.
High Ground, featuring our first Soldiers to Summits project, is finally being released in theatres. I’ve watched, or should say, “heard,” a lot of films about our veterans, and none of them come close to portraying in such a powerful way the struggles and hurdles our military men and women experience as they try to make a life in the civilian world after life-changing injuries.
The setting is our dramatic climb of Lobuche, a 20,000-foot peak in the Himalayas. But this mountain only serves as a metaphor for the personal journeys these soldiers are embarking on as they make progress towards reclaiming their lives. their stories, both painful and deeply inspiring, carry this film and make it an experience which profoundly affects us as we consider our own barriers and breakthroughs. High Ground is directed by Michael Brown and produced by Don Hahn, who also produced such classics as Beauty and the Beast and Lion King, so the film has a beautiful soundtrack and I’ve heard, stunning imagery.
The High Ground screenings are organized through a new online service called Tugg.com. It’s a unique system where tickets are sold in advance and the movie then plays as long as they sell at least half the seats at the theater. If not enough tickets sell, you get your money back.
At present, San Diego will be October 1st, Austin will be October 3rd, Columbia MD and Lakewood WA will be October 4th, and Houston will be October 8th. None of these screenings are specific No Barriers screenings, but being hosted by local veterans organizations which in one way or another make the homecoming for veterans a more successful process. Also none of these screenings have reached their minimum ticket sales so please spread the word.
We’re now in the midst of our second Soldiers to Summits project, having recruited a new team of veterans. The project will end with a climb of Cotopaxi, a high volcano in Ecuador. Our mission is to provide returning veterans new tools and approaches, even a new mindset, to shatter barriers and continue to make an impact in the world.
Join me for the 2nd annual No Barriers What’s YOUR Everest? Challenge on June 2-3 for a climb of Mt. Elbert (14,400 feet), the tallest peak in Colorado. This fundraising event encourages you to embrace the No Barriers mindset and discover “what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
The trail to the summit of Elbert is 4.5 miles long, with 4,700 feet of elevation gain and over half of that is above treeline. For those worried they cannot reach the summit, you are welcome to join us for a picnic at treeline. Last year, despite heavy snow, 55 climbers reached the top of Quandary Peak (14,265 feet) and raised over $10,000 for No Barriers.
Our climbing team will include wounded soldiers from our 2012 Soldiers To Summits program as well as members of my Everest team. A kick-off dinner and reception on the evening of June 2nd in Leadville will inspire you to believe in the power of the human spirit to transcend all barriers.
The Elbert climb and dinner are open to anyone who donates $500 or more to No Barriers by May 30, 2012. If you’ve already donated that amount to No Barriers, Soldiers to Summits, or Global Explorers in 2012, you’re welcome to join us too! If $500 is out of your donation range, but you’d still like to participate, you can get pledges from your friends, family and colleagues. We’ve even set up a Crowdrise fundraising page for you to get started.
Come and push through your barriers! Register NOW online or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
I am a proud supporter of K2 Adventures and Mission Kilimanjaro. If you are in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend this event! It’s organized by my good friend Kevin Cherilla and his associates. Kevin will be leading my friend, Kyle Maynard, on his historic ascent of the highest peak in Africa this winter.
November 19th, K2 Adventures Foundation 2nd Annual Masquerade Ball
Time: 5:30pm Cocktails, 7pm Dinner
Location: Doubletree Resort, Scottsdale, AZ
Summary: On Saturday, November 19, 2011, K2 Adventures Foundation presents its second annual Masquerade Ball at the Paradise Valley Doubletree Resort in Scottsdale. For one evening the ballroom will be transformed into a whimsical, magical and mysterious setting. Come in disguise, costume or in your favorite cocktail attire along with your favorite mask.
Kevin Cherilla and Kristen Sandquist have graciously invited the Mission Kilimanjaro team to take part in their event and live auction. Please feel free to join our team and K2 Adventure Foundation at this special event!
We will be taking our Paradox Rocks program on the road the weekend of October 28-30. We plan to get out and defy gravity together on some of the premier limestone climbing in the country. We’ll also be exploring the local biking and hiking trails and seeing what we can catch fishing the Arkansas.
We’re excited to have new faces joining us to check out what a Paradox event is all about. From challenging climbs to hanging out by the campfire sharing stories, Paradox has an amazing weekend ahead. The athletes will even be testing out a few new climbing foot prototypes as well as having “gear time” with each other’s equipment. Ultimately, the weekend will serve as a great reminder that it’s up to each one of us to define life on our own terms, regardless of what people tell us what we can and can’t do.
For those who’d like to see the magic of Paradox firsthand, you will be happy to know that there are still a few spots available if you are interested in joining us. To register or learn about this event: Paradox Rocks Shelf Road.
Fall in the Rockies is a great time to get out and enjoy the last warm sunny days of Indian summer. Last weekend, we enjoyed a great day of climbing with my longtime climbing partner Jeff Evans, my colleague Skyler Williams, and new friends Nick Hemmert, Annette Jewell, and Victoria Jewell.
We climbed a true 5-star classic, the Kelso Ridge of Torreys Peak, which is only an hour west of Denver. After a short hike, the climb ascends 1,800 feet up a steep and narrow ridgeline and reaches a crux at a narrow knife-edge that has to be saddled up like a horse. It is a challenging Class 3 route with tremendous drop-offs to each side and is considered a training ground for climbers looking to tackle more technical routes.
After six hours of climbing, we celebrated another fantastic summit. Congratulations to Annette and Victoria on their first 14er! Additionally, we are excited to share that the climb raised over $6,000 for No Barriers! Special thanks to Nick and his Denver-based company, Ability To, for all of their efforts in fundraising.
We are lucky to be able to meet new friends and spend beautiful fall days in the Rockies climbing. It’s funny how the No Barriers spirit has a way of emerging everywhere. Only after the climb did we find out that Annette suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and that a climb like this was something she always wanted to do, but wasn’t sure it was possible. It was great to have her with us and get to see the No Barriers mindset in action!
My friend Rob Raker designed the course and took these photos–a huge effort by a man with a huge heart! The competition involved similar activities seen on the ABC show: map reading, riddles and puzzles to solve, objects to find, and answering key questions about native flora and fauna (ospreys, lodgepole and ponderosa pine trees, frogs, etc.) We just couldn’t find camels or Arabian stallions. Instead, we had teams catching crawdads, feeding carrots to a rather large Percheron horse, biking, running, boating, and swimming. The final challenge was to dive down in search of a golf ball – the ticket to finish.
But the most thrilling part of the day was yet to come! You see, our ranch is haunted by a lady who lived at the turn of the century. I told everyone the full story about how there was an accident involving a horse. She died and her ghost now lives in the old barn guarding over her child. Then we all went for a peek inside through a little peephole, through the rays of the sunlight, and the dust, you find in the back, a crib – a baby crib. Freaky scary!
The winners are listed below.
1. Team Surf ‘N Turf (Becky Hall and Charley Mace)
2. Brainy Brunettes (Rebecca Archer and Pam Waltz)
3. Team Alt-i-Tude (Leslie and John Altman)
Mixed; Adult and Child
1. The Blonde Bombers (Julie and Sadie Grimm)
2. The Red Rockets (Cork and Sam Grimm)
3. Team Super Cool (Matt and Max Paolucci)
1. Team Drummer Boys (Jack Nasky and Julian Archer)
2. Small and Tall and Small (Kate Altman, Roxie Holmes, and Abby Waltz)
3. The Golden Girls (Emma Weihenmayer, Mara Coe, and Natalie Capaul)
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