DISABLED BUT NOT DEFEATED
Camp Patriot’s 3rd Annual Summit to Mt. Rainier
Injury is the soldiers worst nightmare, whether it be a combat injury from an improvised explosive device, small arms fire or a accident during a training exercise, it impacts all soldiers.
Camp Patriot was conceived in 2004, on a river in Northwest Montana, by a young man named Micah Clark, who had served his country, and wanted to give back to those that had sustained injuries while serving.
Camp Patriot enables injured veterans to see that life does not end after serious injury. It opens the outdoors to them by showing them what is possible with adventures consisting of hunting, fishing, and camping. They have gone so far as making an annual event of taking injured veterans on an alpine climb of the Pacific Northwest's highest mountain, Mt Rainier in Washington State. Standing14,411ft it is a challenge for any climber.
This is the 3rd year that they have attempted to summit Mt. Rainier and it was a great adventure for everyone involved, whether it was the veterans or the volunteers who helped out, and a great feeling of accomplishment when the climb is done. Each year it grows and this year there were even active members of the military, representing nearly every branch, who volunteered to help with the climb.
In previous years this event has hosted climbers with life changing injuries including missing limbs and blindness and came from almost every branch of service. One of the climbers from last year, Ryan Job, a blind Navy SEAL chose to return and help haul equipment on the mountain. This year the injuries were not as visible but presented just as much of a challenge for the three veterans that took part in the climb. The climbers were Mario Barragan, Reinaldo (Rey) Gonzalez, and Jesse Yandell.
SFC Mario Barragan
SFC Mario Barragan, 37,of Fort Bragg, NC, was serving with the 7th Special Forces Group and suffered blunt trauma to his face, and received shrapnel to his right leg while riding in a vehicle that was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The Texas native lost more than 75% of his lower right jaw and chin, he has received over 10 surgeries in total and may have to have additional surgeries in the future. Despite all this, Mario took on the challenge to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier at 14,411 feet, and was joined by members of 1st Special Forces Group, who had helped with the climb, as they celebrated a successful summit. When asked later he felt that this climb had opened his eyes to what he could still do and that this was one of the most challenging this he had ever done.
CPT Reinaldo (Rey) Gonzalez
CPT Reinaldo Gonzalez, 26, of NY/NJ area, took a 35-foot fall that left him paralyzed from the neck down while attending the Army’s Ranger School. Due to the spinal cord injury it was expected that he would never walk again if he even survived the initial trauma. It was nothing short of miraculous that he is able to walk. It would be a true test of will and determination for him to take each step on his way up the mountain.
Rey’s climb from Camp Muir to Summit would be cut short due to difficult conditions on Disappointment Cleaver. Rey requires intense concentration to make each step along flat terrain, so the act of climbing over the talus ridge at Cathedral Gap proved to be as much as his body would allow. To most people this is difficult and time consuming as you slide dangerously down the ridge with each step and progress comes in painfully small increments. This coupled with Rey's difficulty with making rapid balance adjustments made the next big challenge, Disappointment Cleaver, not only an extreme challenge but also potentially life threatening for him as well as his rope team. Rey, knowing all this made the difficult decision to return to Base Camp for the safety of his team as well as himself. He was able to make it across the Ingram Glacier to around 11,500ft before turning back. He hopes to return to the mountain, as he improves, to challenge it again.
SFC Jesse Yandell
SFC Jesse Yandell, 31, of Hunter Army Airfield, GA, was hit by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenade in the upper chest while on patrol with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He was helping an injured comrade when he was hit. Jesse chose to undergo expletory surgery to remove a 2.7cm piece of shrapnel embedded in the muscle surrounding the heart.
Jesse was unsure due to his injury if he had the cardiac strength to make it to the summit of Mt Rainier, but he summoned the fortitude that is required of a US ARMY Ranger and with the confidence he gained from his guides, Curtis Fawley and Art Rausch, Jesse made the summit of Mt. Rainier.
All 3 soldiers came away with a great experience and a new found respect for mountaineering and their own abilities. Camp Patriot and all those involved helped make this trip a success. Many of the climbers, guides, and volunteers who helped to make this climb possible plan to make this trip an annual event helping injured veterans and welcoming new members to the “Brotherhood of the Rope”.
To anyone who climbs Mt Rainier it can be a truly rewarding experience. With it’s awe inspiring views and challenging terrain it has become a test piece and a right of passage for many world-class alpine climbers to train on. Every year about half the climbers who attempt to climb Mt Rainier never reach the summit. Guides from many of the local guide services, such as Rainier Mountaineering Inc. and International Mountain Guides, have volunteered their time to help with the climb each year and their experience has helped to make this climb a success. This event demonstrates every year how we as climbers are willing to share our love of these remote locations with those who are willing to look deep inside themselves and face the challenge that they represent.
The Mission of Camp Patriot, “Giving Back to Those Who Have Given”, cannot be fulfilled without the support of others. Camp Patriot is a 501(c) 3 non-profit corporation. Donations are tax-deductible and will help future disabled soldiers to experience outdoor adventures through Camp Patriot. For more information or to get involved go to their website at www.camppatriot.org or by contacting Camp Patriot’s founder and executive director Micah Clark at 406-293-4376