As part of Disabled Sports USA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Disabled Sports USA is sending a team of three warfighters to summit Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. On May 6, 2017, the Warfighter Sports team will begin their challenge to summit Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, which at 20,320 feet is considered one of the coldest in the world. With thousands of bottomless crevasses, frequent avalanches, extreme winds (up to 150 mph) and severe cold (down to 40 degrees below zero in summer), many experts consider Denali to be one of the toughest mountains in the world to climb. The purpose of the climb is to inspire and motivate fellow wounded warriors and others who are facing the challenge of rehabilitation after severe injury to realize that they can lead active, fulfilling lives with their disabilities. The long, arduous, step by step process of rehabilitation is very similar to climbing mountains. Both require dedication, persistence, planning and executing fitness programs, and taking one step at a time to the thousands that it takes to reach the goal of rehabilitation and summiting.
Cheer on their commitment by pledging your support! DSUSA has been serving wounded warriors for 50 years and funds raised will ensure that sports rehabilitation programs for wounded warriors continue to be offered free of cost through DSUSA’s Warfighter Sports for years to come!
3 easy ways to pledge your support:
- DSUSA Donation Page
- Join the fundraising team through Crowdrise
- Send your donation via mail. Our address is: Disabled Sports USA, 451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 608, Rockville, MD 20850 * Memo: Warfighter Sports Denali Challenge
Follow their Progress!
The team has started the climb. We will be posting updates as we receive them. Click here to follow the team’s journey in full detail.
- Thursday 6/1: The Warfighter Sports Denali Challenge team, after successfully negotiating their way to Camp 3 at 14,200’ elevation on May 16, were forced down the mountain due to severe weather before they could summit Denali (Mt. McKinley). After waiting six days at Camp 3, the team’s expert guides received the weather forecast from The National Parks Service of another dangerous incoming storm and the Warfighter team was forced to descend to base camp. They flew back to Talkeetna the following day and are now safely home with their families. Unusually cold and dangerous weather (high winds, continuous snowfall, 20 and 40 degrees below zero!) has made Denali a particularly hard mountain to summit this year, even for the most seasoned, big mountain climbers. In fact, only 20 out of 779 (12%) climbers have summited Denali all year. There have been many reported cases of frostbite, including one that resulted in a Life Flight from the mountain. There were two teams from another company that tried to descend over the past weekend (when Team Warfighter Sports would have descended if they decided to wait it out). They descended from Camp 3 to Windy Corner at 13,500′, and could not make it around the corner, due to the storm. They had to climb back up to Camp 3 and wait a couple days before they could head to base camp. Like big mountain climbing, rehabilitation for wounded warriors is a difficult, arduous task. Sometimes, despite all of the best planning and training, warriors face setbacks and disappointments. The message we bring is that to achieve success both in rehab and big mountain climbing, what is needed is an approach that includes clear goals, a plan and training to reach those goals, marshalling whatever resources one can to achieve those goals (you can’t do it alone), a positive attitude, and then taking thousands of small steps to achieve those goals. And when facing setbacks, accept them as challenges and keep moving forward. Team Warfighter Sports Denali Challenge member U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Paul Andrew shared the following with us: “The goal to reach the summit of Denali is one of the most realistic yet incredibly difficult goals for my injuries. I will never run a marathon but I can walk.” He hopes that “any vets who are unhappy with their mobility, find a challenge that is doable and start working on it. Reach out to DSUSA and Warfighter Sports; it’s made a huge impact on my life. I am the healthiest that I’ve been since the last injury that I sustained …and it really does feel incredible. So I just hope that anyone out there who is struggling, reach out for help and look for a goal and start working on it.” Disabled Sports USA thanks the sponsors for their support and believing in Warfighter Sports. Hundreds of individuals as well as corporate and foundation sponsors, especially AIG, Willis Towers Watson and Air Warrior Courage Foundation supported this Seven Summits climb; and are steadfastly committed to helping our warriors rebuild their lives through sports! Our warrior team is to be commended for their hard work, positive attitude and resolve to keep fighting back as they seek their goals in life. Their tremendous efforts during the training climbs and events before Denali, as well as on Denali, represent the very best of Warfighter Sports and we could not be more proud of each of them. We will follow up with pictures and more stories shared by the team.
- Thursday 5/18: Check out the three pictures we were received from the team!
- Tuesday 5/16: The team made it to camp 3 at 14,200′. This is usually a long, hard day. Loads are getting lighter and the air is getting thinner. Upon arrival, the team built their camp and fortified their tents due to the possibility of severe winds. They will at camp 3 for at least 3+ days– where they are 2 days away from summit. More details to come (and hopefully some pictures!).
- “Paul called in from the Warfighter Sports/DSUSA team this evening from Camp 3 on Denali at 14,200 ft. They climbed from the 11,000 ft camp today, so it was a big move with big packs today. The route from Camp 2 to Camp 3 on the West Buttress Route ascends more steeply up “Motorcycle Hill” and around “Windy Corner” before continuing up into Genet Basin and the 14,200 ft Camp 3. They climb roped up and with crampons on through this section, so it’s definitely a bit more like mountaineering than the strictly glacier travel section below Camp 2. It sounds like they had a good, but challenging day getting up to their new camp. Everyone is excited to be there, and it sounds like they are all having a great time up there! Here’s Paul with the evening dispatch from 14,200 ft on Denali.”
- Monday 5/15: Pete texted reporting: “Cache at 13,000’+, beautiful weather”. According to Mountain Trip, steep snow climbing up the 1,000′ high Motorcycle Hill rewards climbers with spectacular views. The total distance for the day is about four miles round trip with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Fun climbing with crampons and ice axe gets the team around Windy Corner where the upper mountain comes into view.
- “Jason Aldine called in from the basin camp at 11,200′ with an update on the Disabled Sports USA Warfighter Challenge Team. Today, the climbers carried loads of supplies up the steep Motorcycle Hill, which rises immediately outside of their camp. After a thousand feet of climbing, they took a break before continuing up even steeper sections of climbing as they made their way up what is known as Squirrel Hill. This brought them alongside the West Buttress proper and, it sounds like it also brought them up and above the clouds that have made up much oft heir word for the past few days. A gradually rising slope brought them to an iconic feature of the West Buttress route, the infamous Windy Corner. Here, a steep rocky ridge rise from the glacier and sweeps up thousands of feet to the Buttress. At this point, the route essentially constricts and passes close to the rocks. Due to its location at the far west side of the immense South Face of Denali, winds can scream around the corner, often making it impassable. Not today! Here is Jason’s recording!
- Sunday 5/14: The weather caught up to the the team, they are tent bound at Camp 2 (11,000′) with heavy snow and high winds, but barometer is rising and forecast is better for tomorrow.
- “Pete Linkroum called in with an unfortunately abbreviated update. The satellites conveying his transmission passed out of reach before he got too far into his call. The team spent today looking at snow falling and unable to move up to their next camp, due to the stormy weather. They took advantage of the day to organize their gear and further build their foundation of acclimatization. And a couple of the guides, Ty and Zach, chimed in with a second call (that I think was also cut off!), in which they extended Happy mother’s Day wishes! Here are the guys.”
- Saturday 5/13: Cache was retrieved by the team and they recommenced the chilling. According to Pete, the real fun begins tomorrow with Motorcycle hill, Squirrel Hill, Polo Field and Windy Corner to make a cache then back. According to Mountain Trip, today is an “active rest day” during which the team drops back down and pick up the cache they left near Kahiltna Pass. It also helps give the another day to acclimatize before moving higher.
- Friday 5/12: The team made it to Camp 2. It was a rough hill to get there but the team knocked it out in 5.5 hours. It’s starting to get really cold! The team will retrieve the cache from 10,000′ tomorrow.
- “The team is making great progress up North America’s tallest mountain. They loaded up their packs and sleds with all their camp and kit this morning, and set out to hike it all up a long series of hills known as “Ski Hill” that rises just outside of their Camp 1 at 7800′ on the Kahiltna Glacier. This is a long, tough day and they hiked past the cache of supplies they had deposited deep in the snow yesterday, stopping briefly to grab some shovels from the cache. Continuing up, they climbed a last, long slope that led them into a stunning basin, flanked with steep cliffs of ice to the south, and steep snow and rocky crags to the east and north. This basin will be the site of their Camp 2 for the next several nights. At an elevation of 11,200′, it affords nice views out of the Alaska Range, and across the river-laced tundra to the west. The team has been graced with blue skies and amazing weather. Tomorrow, they plan to drop back down to retrieve their cache of equipment and supplies. Hopefully, they’ll have another nice day! Here’s Jason.”
- Thursday 5/11: Team headed out from 7,800′ camp and carry loads up the 1,800′ Ski Hill. This is a moderately difficult carry of 7-9 miles round trip, with 2,000 – 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a return to 7,800′ Camp for the night.
- “It was Pete’s turn to call in today with the evening update. They carried a load of food and fuel up the glacier to about 10,000 ft today, dug a pit in the snow, and cached it there to pick up in a few days. After depositing the cache, deep in the snow and safe from marauding ravens, they returned to Camp 1 for another night. Tomorrow they’ll pack up camp and move up to 11,000 feet, passing the cache along the way to return for it the following day. Everyone on Denali enjoyed a beautiful day today, and hope for the nice weather to continue. Here’s Pete checking in. recording“
- Wednesday 5/10: Update as of 5pm ET: The team made it safely and extremely quickly to 7’800′ camp! They hiked through the infamous Heartbreak Hill and onto the broad Kahiltna Glacier. The team decided to load everything up (rather carry half of their stuff and make two trips) and hiked approximately 5 miles in 4.5 hours, which is very impressive! According to Kirk Bauer, DSUSA executive director, who climbed in 2012, it took his team twice as long to complete this stretch. As of 1:20pm ET today, the team was about 1 hour into the hike out of base camp, done with Heartbreak hill.
- “Paul called in this evening with the update from the DSUSA team. They moved up to Camp 1 on the Kahiltna glacier today hauling all of their gear, food/fuel, and equipment in their packs and in sleds they hauled behind. It’s always a tough day, which Paul described as grueling, but they are enjoying the incredible scenery and doing great. Tomorrow they plan to carry a load of food and fuel up to about 10,000 ft where they will cache it and then return to spend the night at Camp 1. recording“
- Tuesday 5/9: Due to the weather, there is a 50/50 chance they will be cleared to fly to the glacier. Stay tuned! Update 4:30pm ET, the team is flying out to the glacier.
- “Paul called in from the base camp of Denali on the South East fork of the Kahiltna glacier reporting that they were all in camp and enjoying their first evening in the Alaska Range! After a day of waiting out the weather in Talkeetna, they were excited to get onto the mountain and get settled in to camp.” Here’s Paul calling in from Denali base camp. Listen to the recording.”
- Monday 5/8: The team had an early travel to Talkeetna (about two hours from Anchorage) and then will fly to the glacier. Once in Talkeetna, the team unloaded, organized, and weighed all the equipment and supplies in preparation for their flight to the glacier. Once on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, they are busy establishing camp for the night. As of 5pm ET, the team was still waiting to be cleared to fly to the glacier due to the low visibility weather. Update 11pm ET: The team bunked up in Talkeetna for the night.
- Sunday 5/7: Team orientation and equipment check!
- Saturday 5/6: Pete, Paul, and Jason arrived to Anchorage to meet the Mountain Trip guides Zach, Jayci and Logan.
Meet the Team!
Pete Linkroum, 39, was on his second deployment in Afghanistan in 2009 as a special forces medic with the Army when he and his team came under enemy fire and a rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle he was driving resulting in radial nerve palsy, burns, and shrapnel damage to his arm along with some hearing loss. He was in the service for 14 years before resigning his commission to focus on his family and career. Mountaineering was a passion of Pete’s before the military and it has carried over since. He was a Colorado Outward bound mountaineering instructor, led grade II and III ice and rock climbs, and summited peaks of varying elevations. Pete is an oncology and critical care practicing nurse in Baltimore, MD where he lives with his wife, Suzanne, and two young daughters.
Paul Andrew, 45, served in the Marines for seven years and sustained multiple injuries while on active duty, including exposure to a dangerous chemical compound stateside in 1997 resulting in permanent lung damage, damage to his vertebrae when an armored hatch closed down on his head when a lock failed and damage to his right knee from an injury while in Okinawa, resulting in use of a casted brace for full mobility. He was medically separated from service in 2002. Paul has summited Mount Shasta and Mount Whitney several times and calls mountaineering his passion. For Paul, mountaineering is the absolute best way he has found to attack his physical limitations head on and maintain his warrior spirit. Climbing Mt. McKinley (Denali) has been on a long time goal on his bucket list. Paul is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of a Defense consulting firm based in both San Diego, CA and Charleston, SC. He and his wife, Rachel, live in Jamul, CA.
Jason Aldine, 34, tackled a rocket propelled grenade during deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. The contact resulted in a penetrating traumatic brain injury, retained intra-cranial shrapnel and facial reconstruction. He retired in 2013 after serving in the Navy for six years. Jason is a ski mountaineering enthusiast and has summited mountains in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and Utah. Raised through the Boy Scouts of America, his passion for outdoor adventures began in earnest upon certifying as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician through the National Outdoor Leadership School in 2004. Jason is currently enrolled at Harvard University where he is laser-focused on finance and investing. Originally from West Texas, Jason and his wife Tracy now live outside of Boston, MA. Pseudonyms used in text above for the protection of individuals’ name.
A huge thank you to our generous sponsors for making this climb possible!
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Air Warrior Courage Foundation was formed by military aviators to “care for our own.” We work closely with the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association to do that. We focus on active duty, guard, reserve and retired military personnel and their families needing financial assistance for medical, educational, and other extraordinary expenses not covered by other military, veterans’, or charitable institutions.
Warfighter Sports, a program of Disabled Sports USA, offers sports rehabilitation for wounded warriors with permanent physical disabilities in military hospitals and communities across the U.S. in partnership with a nationwide network of over 120 community-based chapters. Since 1967, Disabled Sports USA has proudly served wounded warriors, including those injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, offering over 50 winter and summer sports at more than 100 events each year. Warfighter Sports rebuilds lives through sports by improving self-confidence, promoting independence and uniting families through shared healthy activities.
Contributions cover all expenses for participation of the warrior and a family member, including individualized adaptive instruction, adaptive sports equipment, transportation, lodging and meals. Since 2003, more than 12,000 of the most severely wounded and their families have been served, including those with amputations, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, visual impairments, and significant nerve and muscle damage. For more information, visit www.warfightersports.org