Wounded Soldiers take on Mt. Rainier
-Article by Phil Ewert-
The Sovereign Sportsman, along with Camp Patriot, teamed up with three disabled American Heroes to accomplish a 14,411 foot climb summit of Mount Rainier. Retired Master Sergeant Gil Magallanes, retired Staff Sergeant Eric Andrew Cowan, and retired Sergeant Derrek Ford; all with permanent and severe disabilities sustained while serving in Afganistan and Iraq, showed the intense internal fortitude required to face the physical challenge of the climb.
These exceptional men were invited by Camp Patriot, founded by Micah Clark, and established as a way to give back to those individuals who did not make it back home from deployment physically whole. Clark, himself a Marine who safely returned from Afganistan, felt blessed by God that he was able to return home unscathed…and was driven to give back to those who did not.
“We’re trying to show these guys that we love them, and thank them for their service to this country, then show them they have abilities to live life.”
- Micah Clark, Camp Patriot
As climb day approaches, proper preparations for the ascent are imperative. While the team gets fitted for their gear, they meet their guide, Curtis Fawley, who will be providing the needed level of expertise, comfort, and support to assist the three disabled climbers. Curtis uses the snow at a lower elevation for some vital training to show the group how to walk and breathe for the arduous climb ahead.
With training completed and specialty prosthetics fitted to the disabled veterans, the 17 climbers in the group start their accent through the lower altitude snow. The difficulty of the climb increases with the altitude as the team presses upward. To add to the challenge, the temperature was dropping rapidly.
The group took a break at about 6,400 feet to hydrate, rest, and adjust their gear. Another 4,600 feet, 12,000 calories, and 7 hours later the team arrives at camp Muir, where they will camp, regroup, and prepare for the next 5 days. The stunning views of the distant snow covered peaks reveal the splendor of Rainier far above sea level.
Camp Muir is where summit training began in order to acclimate the team to the thinner air and steeper climb ahead. They practiced controlled slides down the mountain and used equipment to stop themselves or other people if they happened to fall. Climb guide Curtis Fawley said, “We are a team, and our success revolves around that fact.” A fun day, but important information to cover that could be potentially lifesaving.
“This was not an eagle climb. This was an expedition centered around the lives of three amazing war heroes and our attempt to get them to summit this mountain.”
- Eric Richey, Sovereign Sportsman
It was midnight, blustery, with temperatures below freezing. The team began the second major leg of their ascent roped together as they traversed moving glaciers, steep volcanic ridges, and fought for every breath in the extremely high altitude. A howling wind greatly reduced visibility, and an increased incline caused the group to dig deep. Each step had to be taken with extreme care. Any misstep could could prove to be disastrous.
“This was the point where the air was really grabbing hold of the climbers,” said Eric, “It was getting harder to breathe, fatigue was starting to set in, and it became a climb…a very difficult climb.”
After a few hours of climbing, the team was treated to the spectacular sight of the sunrise penetrating the cloud layer below them, leaving them speechless. The panoramic view of the cloud deck below was split by the glowing warmth of the rising sun, invoking a celebratory rest from the climb. A safety check of the climbers revealed that, due to the limitations because of his injuries, retired Master Sergeant Magallanes could not continue the climb. With the assistance from a group of the guides, “Mag” headed back down the mountain, but not before he declared victory at 12,300 feet. After parting ways, the rest of the team journeyed on toward the summit.
“As we began to make our way up the steeper segment of that leg to High Break, I was starting to feel the effects of some altitude sickness. At that point the entire rope team had reconciled themselves to basically climbing the rest of that mountain six inches at a time. So it went from 1000 feet left, to 800 feet left, to 600 feet left, to 200 feet left, and finally when it seemed literally you could just collapse in the snow and pray for death, the summit rim came into view.”
- Eric Richey, Sovereign Sportsman
As the group reached, and some even exceeded their physical limitations, the summit of Mt. Rainier came into view. The group shared high fives and hugs as they unfurled and proudly held the American flag and then a Camp Patriot flag. The celebration was short lived as Camp Patriot supporter Dr. Walter Leonard fell ill and needed to be airlifted off the summit by a Chinook helicopter. Only a short time later as the team began their descent, retired Sergeant Derrick Ford also need an assist off the mountain by the same Chinook due to the pain of his prosthetic limb as he climbed down the mountain. Thankfully the remaining team members safely arrived back down at base camp and recounted the amazing adventure shared with these American Heroes.
Special thanks to Camp Patriot for their assistance helping soldiers find and reclaim their sovereignty and identity amidst the struggles of life-changing injuries and rehabilitation.
-Article by Phil Ewert
Phil Ewert, an avid hunter, fisherman, and outdoor enthusiast, is a firearms specialist, with a wealth of training and skill as an instructor in weapons safety and performance. His experience includes SWAT Team training, firearms and use of force instructing, and previously served over 10 years with municipal, county, and federal law enforcement units. With complimentary skills in writing and broadcasting, Phil has found a perfect home with the Sovereign Sportsman family.