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Archive for the ‘Motivational’ Category

Your Turn: How you can join the team!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

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Over the past eight years, the USAF 7 Summits Team has been a constantly changing set of faces…a pick-up team of dedicated folks who wanted to get out and be  apart of something special.  A lot of people have asked us, “How can I get involved?  How can I join the team?”  Here’s your chance.


With the group’s new focus of “Airmen Helping Airmen”, we want to introduce more Airmen to the healing power of the mountains…especially those who may be dealing with the stresses of combat deployments or injuries, or stresses at home.  Getting outdoors, working up a sweat, and reaching a summit is good for the soul.  If you’re the kind of person who already knows that, we’d like you to join of effort and carry that message to others.  And the good news is, you won’t have to save up the airfare to Nepal; you can do it much closer to home.


The original goal for the team was to carry the USAF flag to the highest point on each continent, and that’s been accomplished.  In just a couple weeks, Majors Rob Marshall and Mark Uberuaga will present that flag to the AF Chief of Staff, Gen Mark Welsh.  We’d like all of you to be part of the new effort, and carry an AF flag to the highest point in the 50 states.  If you’re stationed at Eglin or Dover, that’s OK.  Just get together a group of Airmen and make a fun day of it!  If you’re at Beale or F.E. Warren, then you’ll need to plan and select your team a little more carefully.


We’re here to help.  Over the next month or so, we will reorient this website to the new project (while keeping an archive of the 7 Summits climbs), and we’ll use this site and our Facebook page to help you connect with others who want to join you.  What we need from you is what we know Airmen have in abundance:  enthusiasm, organizational skill, and leadership.  Get out there and make it happen!  Email us at: usaf7summits@gmail.com, or message us on FB, and let us know where you are and what summit you’d like to do.  All we ask is that you send us short trip report and photos so we can share it here on the website.  Get after it!

Rainier, Part 5: A Long Way Down

Friday, September 6th, 2013
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The team on the rim of the summit crater

We reached the summit at about 0830, and spent about 90 minutes enjoying the views, taking photos, doing pushups, and signing the summit log.  By the time we headed down the mountain, we’d already put in a long day, and we had a long, long way to go yet.  Descending was easier on the lungs, but not necessarily the legs.  And as the sun softened the snow, we had to contend with a route that was quickly turning to the consistency of a snow cone.

Traffic jam at the crux pitch

Traffic jam at the crux pitch


By 1100 we were back at the crux pitch, and while we’d made great time on this section on the ascent, on the descent we ran smack into a traffic jam.  Between the steepness and the sloppy snow, some of the rope teams ahead of us were clearly flummoxed as to how to get down safely.  Driving our axes into the snow for an anchor and sitting on our packs, we cooled our heels for over an hour and a half waiting our turn to rappel down.  Fortunately, the weather was nice and we were even able to get a cell phone signal, allowing Rob to make a quick blog post from 12,600’!


When at last the traffic jam cleared, Mark quickly set up an anchor and belayed the members of our team down over the short pitch.  In no time we were back at the top of the Cleaver, and making our way down over the mixture of snow and rock.   We used extra caution, knowing that the effects of fatigue made a slip or fall more likely.

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Nearing the base of the Cleaver, with Ingrham Glacier in the background.


By about 1500 we were back at Camp Muir, facing the daunting task of striking camp, repacking our loads, and descending another 4,600’ to Paradise.  A couple hours later, we hoisted packs that despite the absence of food and stove fuel seemed every bit as heavy as they had two days earlier!  The long trek down through the Muir Snowfield was a slog, to say the least.  But our delay high on the mountain had at least one silver lining:  by the time we’d reached the snowline, the late afternoon sun was bathing the meadows full of wildflowers in perfect light.  You couldn’t ask for a prettier memory of Rainier.


By the time we dragged into the parking lot at Paradise and dropped our packs for the last time, it was nearly 8 pm.  The visitor center had already closed for the day, and only a few tourists were milling about.  But all of them treated our arrival with a good deal of deference and respect.  Almost 2 million people a year visit the park, but only a tiny fraction of that number actually climb the mountain.  It felt good to be in such company.

The long road home.

The long road home.


Next up:  Your turn.

Climbing Strong

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Climbing StrongIt is really great to see our team doing so well.  Having shared a rope with Rob and Drew on some very challenging days, I can say without hesitation that they are a couple of the strongest guys I’ve ever climbed with.  They have more determination than you can imagine and have always made it looks so easy once the going gets tough.  No doubt their journey today is tough, but it’s great to see the team making such good progress!  Check out this screen shot of their progress so far!  – Mark Uberuaga

27 Apr: Everest in 3.8 billion pixels

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

The team spent yesterday at Camp 2 acclimatizing with a hike to the base of the Lhotse Face, while the Sherpas are hard at work fixing ropes to Camp 3.  Today they will return to EBC for a few days, and hopefully that will give them a chance to make the 2.5 hour hike down to Gorak Shep where they can email out some photos.  Meanwhile, if you want to get a REALLY high-resolution look at Everest, check out this link.  Famed filmmaker David Breashears (who spent a few hours talking to our Wounded Warriors during their trek) has assembled a number of ultra high-res images into a single zoomable image that will blow you away!


Flashback: Trekker Trip Report

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The team is taking a rest day at Camp 1 before moving up to Camp 2 tomorrow. You can see that for yourself on the GPS Tracking link above, and if you haven’t checked that out, please do! If you have the Google Earth plug-in for your browser, you’ll get an amazing 3D view of the Western Cwm and the Lhotse Face.

Our trekkers are back home now, and Heidi and Megan checked in today with their report below about their impressions of the trek to Everest Base Camp. Thanks for coming along to support the effort!

Colin, Heidi and Megan giving a Base Camp Shout-Out to the folks back in Colorado Springs.

Colin, Heidi and Megan giving a Base Camp Shout-Out to the folks back in Colorado Springs.

Heidi and Megan’s Report:

Having been back in the states now for a couple days, it’s fun to reminisce on the trip, and think back to all those good memories; however, those tough times are going to be hard to forget as well! All in all, I would say this trip was a little more difficult than I expected, but in different ways than I initially imagined. The trek itself was amazing! I don’t think anyone would be able to explain just how beautiful the scenery is throughout the entire Khumbu Valley. Standing at the top of Kala Pattar at an elevation of 18,200′, and still straining my neck to look up at gigantic mountains in every direction, is an experience that I will probably never have again in my life. It’s literally breathtaking, and pictures will never be able to fully portray just how amazing those views are.

But the scenery was amazing throughout the entire trip. Just driving through the city streets of Kathmandu was a unique experience in and of itself; dodging mopeds carrying full families, and cows/stray dogs roaming the streets, and getting adjusted to the new meaning of a horn (which you can’t get by without in Kathmandu). From there, we got to experience the wild roller coaster ride that is a flight into the Lukla airport! Flying between mountain ranges, and being able to look out (not down) for views of the rhododendron trees is awesome; and I can’t say I’ve ever been on another flight where the whole airplane cheered once we came to a stop….that was great! Again, trekking through the Khumbu Valley was a unique and awesome experience. We got to witness small statured porters carrying 200+ pound loads suspended from their foreheads and got passed by endless groups of yaks on narrow dirt paths. I will add that it was a nice surprise to be staying in tea houses versus tents for the first few nights. Before this trip started, I was under the impression that this was going to be a full camping trip from start to finish, so entering Phakding that first trekking day and walking into the dining room with a fully stocked bar was a good feeling. Although, the only heat source in any of the tea houses was a fire place fueled by dry yak dung (which smelled awesome by the way), so it was hard to fully appreciate these tea houses like we would a typical hotel.

Another surprise to me was the toilet situation. Now, I realize that most of the group was familiar with squatters, given their mountaineering experience, but I on the other hand had no experience with squatters whatsoever. So it was a little bit of a shock to me to open my first bathroom door in Lukla (our first of 19 days trekking through the valley), and see a hole in the ground with a bucket for used toilet paper in the corner. Really?! It’s supposedly the most “natural” position for accomplishing that task, lol, but I was not comfortable with these at all! I guess it got a little better as the trip went on, but I absolutely loved returning to clean bathrooms in the Hong Kong airport with optional toilet seat cleaners…. it’s definitely a commodity you don’t realize how much you appreciate until you don’t have it. That and showers! I wasn’t too stoked to try the shower tent at Lobuche Base Camp (which consisted of a large bowl of hot water and a cup to pour the water over your head), but it actually turned out to be OK. But again, it really made me appreciate my warm shower at home with consistently flowing hot water.

The obvious concerns I had before starting this adventure were being too cold and not being able to breath due to the altitude. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. The weather treated us very nicely during the time we were there (although, we heard they had a snow day right after we left, so maybe we were bringing the sunshine). During the day when we were trekking at the lower altitudes, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but nighttime was a different story. When we were sleeping in tents at both Lobuche and Everest Base Camps, it typically got so cold at night that condensation would build up on the inside of our tent, and literally snow on us if/when we accidentally bumped the tent…that was cold! However, I did learn a very helpful trick while I was there (which apparently is pretty common amongst experienced mountaineers), which was to fill our Nalgene bottles with boiling water at dinner, and sleep with those at night to keep us warm; a secondary benefit was that the water was drinkable in the morning! The altitude was a challenge of its own. We brought a pulse oximeter with us to test our oxygen levels at various elevations, and it was a little nerve-wracking when the numbers were dropping to the high 60’s/low 70’s at EBC. I can’t imagine having to go any higher than that! I thought sleeping at those altitudes was going to be difficult, but surprisingly it wasn’t an issue.

The biggest issue I think the whole team had to deal with was the challenge of trying to stay healthy. There’s only so much we can control with respect to keeping ourselves clean; but we have to eat, and when the food we are served isn’t handled properly, it’s easy (and almost inevitable) to catch the so-called GI bug. It was almost a game…. every time we gathered for a meal there was someone else who had been hit with the bug. People kept dropping like flies, and the number of healthy people who hadn’t been affected was dwindling. It was scary to think that we might be next….and we were! There was no avoiding the unsanitary conditions when WE weren’t even given soap and water to wash our hands after using the “bathrooms”….let alone our kitchen crew!

But all things considered, this really was an amazing trip. Everest Base Camp is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or will see again. A large tent city set up on top of a rock covered glacier! It was eerie to hear the glacier cracking underneath you at night, but the views surrounding you were breathtaking. And getting to meet the members of the USAF 7 Summits Team and learn their stories as well as the stories of the 3 Wounded Warriors was incredible. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I am so glad that I chose to participate in this trek. I wish the team good luck over the next couple weeks while they continue to train and acclimate in preparation for the big day. After meeting the climbing team and their ginormous Sherpa support team, I have no doubt that this will be a successful trip for them. Good luck guys, and bring back some amazing pics!

– Megan and Heidi

21 Apr: Everest–A (very) brief climbing history

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

As we wait for word on whether the team has made it’s first of several trips through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 at 19,900’, we’d like to offer a short history lesson on Mt. Everest climbing. 2013 is an auspicious year to be on Everest, as it is the 60th anniversary of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by an American, Jim Whittaker.

The first detailed reconnaissance of Mt Everest by westerners was carried out in 1921 by a British Expedition. One of the members of that expedition, George Mallory, was asked by a newspaper reporter why it was necessary to climb Everest. His reported reply has become probably the most famous phrase in mountaineering: “because it is there.” Mallory returned to Everest in 1922 and again in 1924 to attempt the summit from the north. On the early afternoon of 8 Jun 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, were sighted high on Everest’s northeast ridge. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared into clouds and were never seen again. A controversy has raged ever since about whether either man reached the summit, a debate that was reenergized by the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999. Whether they summited or not may never be known, but one thing is quite certain: the rules of modern mountaineering dictate that reaching a summit is not enough. A climber must also get safely down.

In 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali Sherpa, accomplished just that. On 29 May 1953, they reached the highest point on Earth via the South Col route, and returned safely to take their places in the history books. The route established by Hillary and Norgay is the most commonly used route on Everest today, and the one the USAF 7 Summits team will be climbing.

Ten years later, an American expedition came to the Khumbu with the intent of reaching the summit by not one, but two routes: the South Col route pioneered by Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the much more difficult West Ridge. (For an excellent account of this expedition, see this month’s Outside Magazine.) Jim Whittaker of Seattle reached the summit via the South Col route on 1 May 1953, together with Nawang Gombu, a nephew of Tenzing Norgay. A few weeks later, the American team attempted an audacious feat: climbers Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein would attempt the unclimbed West Ridge, while two other Americans, Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop would ascend from high camp on the South Col, with the intent of all four rendezvousing on the summit. Jerstad and Bishop reached the summit first, but after 45 minutes with no sign of Unsoeld and Hornbein, they began their descent.

Unsoeld and Hornbein did each the summit, the first climbers to do so by the treacherous West Ridge. But they did not arrive there until 6:15pm, dangerously late in the day. In fact, their summit attempt was a desperate gamble. With no means of retreat along the West Ridge, they were committed to summiting Everest, and descending via the unfamiliar South Col route. Had they linked up with their teammates as planned, they would have had the benefit of their experience on the route to guide them down. Now, they had only their footprints in the snow.

The four climbers did eventually join up. Jerstad and Bishop had stopped to rest in the darkness, when they heard voices at about 7:30pm. It was another two hours before the climbers found one another. They continued together for several more hours, until the point they were in no condition to complete the descent to the safety of the tents on the South Col. Instead, they chose to bivouac, with no tents or sleeping bags, at an altitude of 28,000’. The chances of survival under such conditions were bleak, but the story has a happy ending. All four climbers made it down safely, although not without a high cost. Bishop lost all ten toes to frostbite.

Climbers today stand on the shoulders of these giants who pioneered the routes to the roof of the world. But today’s climbers have also learned much from the mistakes of their predecessors. Mountaineering poses certain risks, but those risks are managed by careful planning and sound decision-making on the mountain. The USAF 7 Summits team is committed to carrying the Air Force flag to the summit of Everest, but even more so to the goal of bringing the team home safely.

7 Apr – Wounded Angels

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

It’s time to introduce a few more members of our team, some of whom you’ve already heard from or heard about in the past couple days. We’re proud to have three “Wounded Angels” joining us for the trek to base camp. All three are proud members of the USAF Rescue Community, who have undertaken the trek as a means of demonstrating the power of vigorous outdoor adventure to build resiliency and help wounded warriors recover from their injuries.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Disney, who wrote yesterday’s blog post, is a Pararescueman who survived a gunshot wound to the head on April 18, 2003, when enemy forces ambushed his special operations team as they inserted to a remote location in Central Aisa. A shining example of resilience and the warrior spirit, Disney has also endured a helicopter crash (Aug ‘02), witnessed the death of six close friends in another helicopter crash (Mar ‘03), and suffered a traumatic brain injury from a 15-foot fall onto his back during helicopter operations. Currently assigned to Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley AFB, VA, “Diz” is an outspoken advocate for Wounded Warrior issues. Diz is earning his keep on this trek as the travelling entertainment, carrying his guitar to base camp!

Capt “Gus” Viani was one of the first Combat Rescue Officers (CROs) to train when officers first entered the career field. An Air Force brat and 2007 USAFA grad, he is an alumni of the USAFE Mountaineering Club like several of the team’s climbers. In Jan 2009, he sustained a fall during helicopter rope ladder training, resulting in a concussion and fractured spine. He was surgically repaired with a titanium spinal fusion, and was waivered to resume training 6 months later. After 2 OEF deployments during which he flew 250 missions, Gus was in a canopy entanglement with another teammate during parachuting training in August 2011. The crash-landing resulted in a concussion, multiple pelvic fractures, rib fractures and torn knee ligament. He was immediately repaired with titanium hardware, followed by knee surgery 5 months later, which left him wheelchair-bound for 3 months. Gus is being cheered on during this trek by his wife Emily, and by his twin brother, a USAF C-17 and RPA pilot.

Our third Wounded Angel, “MSgt Gino”, aka “K-Bar”, is a shadowy figure who is the keeper of Charlie the PJ, a rescue career field mascot with almost 50 years of history. (You can read about Charlie at http://www.pararescue.com/history.aspx?id=451, and you’ve already seen a few pictures of him in previous posts.) As for Gino, he was hit by a frag grenade in Afghanistan almost exactly two years ago, but jumped at the chance to join the trek when another member had to drop out.

All three of these guys embody the essence of resiliency; coming back strong after major setbacks. The USAF 7 Summits Challenge began in 2005 with two guys setting off to climb a mountain together to help clear their heads after a loss in their squadron. That founding idea, of companionship and the healing power of the mountains, is still strong as this group of Airmen heads up the Khumbu Valley to Base Camp.

Wounded Airmen Aiming to Reach Everest Base Camp!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Send these American Airmen on an epic journey sure to help them heal from their ordeals mentally, physically, and spiritually.  We need to raise $20,000 before Feb 25th to ensure these wounded warriors have plane tickets, permits, guides, and lodging as they accompany the USAF 7 Summits Challenge on our trek to Everest Base Camp.  Using the link below, your donations to the AF Rescue community’s charity, “That Others May Live Foundation” are tax deductible and will go directly to the mission to send these Airmen on this important and powerful trip deep into the Himalayan mountains.




Senior Master Sgt. Robert Disney, 35, USAF Pararescueman, survived a gunshot wound to the head on April 18, 2003, when enemy forces ambushed his special operations team as they inserted to a remote location in Central Pakistan.  A shining example of resilience and the warrior spirit, Disney has also endured a helicopter crash (Aug ‘02), witnessed the death of six close friends in another helicopter crash (Mar ‘03), and suffered a traumatic brain injury from a 15-foot fall onto his back during helicopter operations.  He was stationed at Moody Air Force Base, GA (‘98-’04, ‘07-’11) and RAF Mildenhall, UK before joining the Standards and Evaluations division at Air Combat Command Headquarters, Langley AFB, VA.  Disney is a devoted advocate for Wounded Warrior issues and has become a highly successful public speaker.  Robert is from Central Illinois and is married to Tess Disney from Nashville, GA.


Tech. Sgt. Daniel Houghton, 28, USAF Pararescueman, was wounded Feb. 17, 2007, in a devastating MH-47 helicopter crash in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.  Despite near fatal injuries and a snow storm, Houghton maintained a security position in the fractured wreckage until he was rescued four hours later. While recovering from a follow-on surgery in June 2009, he learned that his brother, George Bryan Houghton, an F-16 pilot, had died in a training accident at Hill AFB, Utah.  Undeterred, Houghton fought his way back to a full recovery as an operational Pararescueman through the aid of the Athlete’s Performance Institute in Gulf Breeze, FL.   After four years as a Pararescue School Instructor at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, he was recently selected as a Special Tactics Recruiter at his brother’s former home of Hill Air Force Base, UT.  Dan hails from Asheville, NC and is married to Marjorie Houghton from San Antonio, TX.

Capt Augustin Viani, 28, USAF, entered Combat Rescue Officer training directly after graduating the Air Force Academy in 2007. In Jan 2009, he sustained a fall during helicopter rope ladder training, resulting in a concussion and fractured spine. He was surgically repaired with a titanium spinal fusion. He recovered and was waivered to resume training 6 months later. In Dec 2009, he graduated as a Combat Rescue Officer, being assigned to the 48th Rescue Squadron, Davis-Monthan AFB. After 2 OEF deployments (250 missions), Capt Viani was in a canopy entanglement with another teammate during parachuting training in August 2011.  The crash-landing resulted in a concussion, multiple pelvic fractures, rib fractures and torn knee ligament. He was immediately repaired with titanium hardware, followed by knee surgery 5 months later after being wheel chair bound for 3 months. Capt Viani recovered and was waivered again to resume training in Oct 2012.  Gus is married to Emily Viani from Albuquerque, NM.



Dawn Fresh Snow Training Run

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Woke up this Sunday morning as the sun was coming up.  Threw on my running shoes and got the dog harnessed up.  Then we were outside into the 15F morning to find a fresh blanket of snow… all untouched.  Ran to local coffee shop for a warm-up and then back home.  The dog jumped around and pounced in the snow all the way back.  The snow flakes were still in perfect shape, but soon the sun was upon them and their transformation back to liquid began.  But getting to see such a perfect winter morning before it was spoiled was a perfect setting for an early morning training run.  -Rob