See this blog in its original posting on the Osprey site http://www.ospreypacks.com/stories/a-day-to-remember/
For many of us, the date September 11th will forever stand sharply in our minds. Just hearing the words nine-eleven evokes a certain surge of memories, a prickly recollection of a normal day turned chaos, only 15 years ago. Just ask any American over the age of 20 what they were doing on September 11th, 2001, and without hesitation, they will be able to give a vivid, detailed description surrounding the exact moments they first heard the news. For me, like any American teenager between the age of 14 and 18 in 2001, I was floundering my way awkwardly through high school.
I was in Mr. Jarzab’s third period algebra class when I heard the news. My first thought—I gotta get down to room 210, right now. You see, we had a Marine Corps ROTC at my high school. Proud men in sharp uniforms taught classes down there in room 210; they even conducted ceremonies at all of our home basketball games. They would march onto the gymnasium floor in complete unison with a chest full of golden medals, perfectly crisp flags, and even more impressive, glimmering rifles. When I heard our nation was under attack, I felt safer if I could get down to room 210 with those guys. And like many other young men and women standing in the hallways of their high school the day those towers fell, I wanted to be those guys.
Fast forward 15 years later nearly to the day, and I’m lying on the floor of a strangers house in a sleeping bag, trying unsuccessfully to convince myself that 2 hours of sleep is plenty of rest before a long day in the mountains. I give a quick glance around the dark living room and every inch of free carpet space is covered by someone in a sleeping bag. Crammed in-between the couch and the wall, staggered like sardines in front of the closets, some even sleep upright in chairs. Here, gathered in Estes Park, Colorado, a group of 13 veterans and their support team struggle to sneak in a quiet nap before they set off for Rocky Mountain National Park at 1 AM.
1 AM is so early, it’s late.
In my mind, 1 AM doesn’t even register as an early morning, so starting something at that hour feels completely unnatural, even downright uncomfortable. Yet, at 1 AM, we find ourselves huddled around the open tailgate of an idling pickup truck, smothered by a completely black overcast sky, pulling on gloves and beanies, adjusting our headlamps and tucking last second snacks into our Osprey packs. We all used the Osprey Talon 18 for this trek and it was the perfect pack for a long day high in the Colorado mountains.
The plan: Hike, crawl, scramble, and climb our way across 22 miles of rugged ridge line, all while summiting 8 peaks that dot the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We didn’t really know how long it would take, but we did know 2 things; it would be long, and we would suffer.
Veteran Expeditions (Vet Ex) is a military veteran led, chartered non-profit based out of Colorado . In short, it affords United States military veterans the opportunity to join its tight community on trips and expeditions throughout the US. On this special occasion, in recognition of September 11th, Vet Ex presented a unique and challenging mission to the group. The theme was simple: go into the mountains and suffer with your peers. To press ourselves against our boundaries, to exceed our comfort zone, to thrash our bodies against a vast landscape—and all for what? Because we honor our fallen with pain. We pay tribute to them with the sacrifice of ourselves, in a death march contrived of pure physical exertion and torment, even if only for a day.
The hike delivered what it had promised.
Immediately upon climbing above tree line, around 11,600 ft, a relentless freezing wind tears at our bodies. Only the loud static of the whistling breeze fills my jacket hood. I quietly focus on the small cone of light my headlamp lays out in front of my feet, taking small choppy steps forward, tightly squeezing my hands into fist inside of my pockets. The march drudges forward, over boulder fields and across peaks, down dark ridgelines and back up again. Finally, after traversing miles of rocky terrain in the frigid dark, the sun begins to warm the horizon.
With the rising sun comes rising spirits. The groups morale lifts as the radiant warmth of the sun greets our frozen faces. Now we can also see most of the remaining route, perhaps to our own torment.
With a renewed vigor we press onward. The soft orange skyline lightens into hues of brilliant blue while our column snakes forward across the rocky ledges—up-up-up.
On the summits of these great mountains we eat and laugh together. Cheerfully we share stories of our deployments and visits to exotic places—the good times and the not so good times. There is something special in these interactions, a certain sort of—familiarity. A bond between strangers that dissolves being a stranger at all. An instant connection to a group, not because of where we are, but where we have been.
Danger is something this group of is well acquainted with. Although scaling precarious ridgelines high in the mountains is a different dynamic than let’s say, combat, the feeling is all the same. Adrenaline, and the constant condition of controlling and moderating said adrenaline. The result is pure exhaustion, contentment, and euphoria.
With our final summit complete, we began the arduous 6-mile descent back down to the trailhead. It took 18 hours to complete the full 22 miles, most of which was above 13,000 feet. 18 turbulent, jarring hours of suffering in the mountains. However, we suffered together, and we did not suffer for ourselves. No, we marched in the freezing darkness—into the day—and into darkness again–for those lives lost on that normal day turned chaos, only 15 years ago.
This is one of 50 trips run by the vets at VetEx in 2016. We could use your help with our 2017 schedule. Thank a veteran for their service in a meaningful way by giving back today. Click here for details.
Written by: USMC Veteran Kirby Kimble