Colo. climbers, disabled vets headed to Himalayas
10-year anniversary of Everest climb celebrated with 'Soldiers to the Summit' expedition
08/05/2010 08:59:02 PM MDT
On May 13, 2008, Steve Baskis was leading a convoy through northern Baghdad while on a mission with the Army's 4th Infantry Division when the heavily armored truck he was driving hit a sophisticated roadside bomb that sent molten shrapnel through the vehicle's passenger-side door.
Baskis' good friend Staff Sgt. Victor Cota, riding in the passenger seat, was killed instantly. Baskis was hit in his right temple and all four limbs, leaving him with third-degree burns, a fractured skull and a severed artery in his left arm, among other injuries.
When he awoke from the attack a week later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors informed him that he was blind and likely would be for life.
"It was bad day," said Baskis, of Glen Ellyn, Ill.
More than two years, numerous surgeries and countless hours of physical and blindness rehabilitation later, Baskis is preparing for the next great challenge of his life -- scaling Nepal's 20,075-foot Lobuche Peak with help from Colorado climbers.
The 24-year-old, who medically retired from the military in June, is one of 11 disabled American veterans who will participate in the difficult climb beginning Oct. 1. The trek, organized and sponsored in part by Castle Rock-based nonprofit World T.E.A.M. Sports, is being called "Soldiers to the Summit."
"Just being in the heart of the Himalayas, 10 miles from Everest -- I may not be able to see the beautiful surroundings, but just to stand in that part of the world with comrades should be an awesome experience," Baskis said.
Joining Baskis and his fellow veterans in Nepal will be an experienced 11-man climbing team including Golden's Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind person ever to summit Mount Everest, and Boulder's Jeff Evans, a highly experienced mountain guide who accompanied Weihenmayer on his ascent. Soldiers to the Summit will mark the 10th anniversary of the duo's Everest climb.
How to help
To give money for the climb, go to soldierstothesummit.org and click on the "donate" tab.
Lobuche East is the official name of the peak the team will attempt to summit.
Kala Pattar is a neighboring peak the team will also climb.
The team sets out from Kathmandu on Oct. 1.
Lobuche's summit sits at an elevation of 20,075 feet.
Mount Everest is 8.7 miles away from Lobuche.
It is expected to take 13 days for the team to reach the summit and eight days to climb back down.
'Soldiers to the Summit' will continue training Saturday on Idaho Springs' James Peak, elevation 13,000 feet.
"We want to bring attention to these people and their journey," Evans said of combining Soldiers to the Summit with the 10th anniversary of the historic climb. "Whether you buy into (the Iraq and Afghan) conflicts or not, these guys are doing their jobs so we can walk around and be free."
Evans, a certified emergency medicine physician assistant specializing in travel and altitude medicine, is familiar with the challenges of leading disabled people on difficult, technical climbing expeditions, as he will be doing with the veterans up Lobuche.
"It's a solid peak," Evans said. "A lot of them have physical and emotional challenges. It's going to be tough."
To prepare for their October journey, Evans gathered his team and the 11 veterans at the Bent Gate Mountaineering store in Golden on Thursday morning. The store has provided the Soldiers to the Summit team with a home base: They held a conference call with former President George W. Bush there Wednesday night and gathered gear for ice climbing training at St. Mary's Glacier at the store Thursday.
"I believe that experiences like this can help you on the road to whatever you want to do in your life," Weihenmayer said of the upcoming expedition. "We thought this would be a cool way we could give back to our nation's heroes. Maybe it can change their lives like (the Everest climb) did ours."
Of the 11 disabled veterans headed to Nepal, nine have never used an ice ax or crampons before. The eight men and three women in the group have served in the Army, Air Force and Marines and have disabilities that include amputated legs and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most injuries were from combat, but some veterans were injured after being discharged from the military. The mountaineering veterans range in age from 24 to 44.
Jeff Messner, president of World T.E.A.M. Sports, will be joining the expedition on Lobuche. His organization has been pairing able-bodied and disabled people in physical challenges since 1993. He said the veterans' disabilities will not be the biggest obstacle faced by the group.
"The biggest hurdle will be making sure we come together as a team, but it will also be our biggest accomplishment," Messner said.