Veterans Expeditions

Posts Tagged ‘Expedition’

9/11 Climbing Trip 2 From Glacier Peak to Mount St. Helens WA

Glacier group w peak

The 3 Amigos. Army, Marines, Air Force Veterans getting after it!

 

Sometimes you get to go places on expedition and words cannot describe how amazing everything is.  The pictures from our time traveling and climbing in Washington this September 11th say a thousand words.  These volcanoes, trails, rocks, and forests were such an honor to spend quality time in and around.  Glaciers, waterfalls, and mountains were everywhere.  

 

Look left and see VetEx Co-Founder taking in the magnitude of this vast landscape with Glacier Peak looming in the distance.

Look left and see VetEx Co-Founder Nick Watson taking in the magnitude of this vast landscape with Glacier Peak looming in the distance.

From the lush forests of the North Cascade to the moonscape of Mount St. Helens.  We traveled, hiked, and climbed this land with our eyes wide open and smiles upon our faces.  Three veterans and one non-veteran traveling around and enjoying every second.  We hiked and climbed long, hard days and took none of it for granted.  Army, Air Force, and Marine veterans all exploring this new world together as a team.  If this sounds like fun to you, get on the next trip with VetEx.  See you all outside very soon.

St. Helens summit flag

The summit of Mount St. Helens on 9/11/13

St. Helens showing off Keens

We couldn’t do it with out the Keens on our feet.

 

9/11 Climbing to Mt. Olympus with SCMO and VetEx

CLIMBING TO OLYMPUS

Originally posted here http://sierraclub.typepad.com/planet/2013/09/climbing-to-olympus.html

Climbing-to-Olympus

Dan, Derek and Joshua on the summit of Mt. Olympus.

By Joshua Brandon, Sierra Club Military Outdoors Organizer

We climb for many reasons. We climb to challenge ourselves and we climb for spiritual fulfillment. We climb to mark the anniversaries of our victories as well as the tragedies. Last week, our team of veterans climbed for their own personal reasons in remembrance of the events of September 11th, 2001.

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Dan after his first alpine lead.

Many in our community lost friends and family in the events of that day, but far more of us mark that day as the turning point in which our lives were forever changed in the ensuing conflict of the following twelve years. Regardless of various motivations, our team marks the event by challenging ourselves in the wilderness.

Climbing-to-Olympus

Crossing the gap.

From September 7th to the 12th, I joined veteran climbers Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla in a traverse of Mount Olympus and the Ridge of the Gods in the wilderness of Washington State for the annual 911 climb.

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Supper below the Blue Glacier.

Over the course of five and a half days, we walked and climbed 48 miles with 11,000 feet of elevation change on five peaks and two glaciers. We traveled through one of the largest temperate rain forests on the planet, steep sub alpine hills, and glaciated alpine vistas encompassing some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country.

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Ridge of the Gods, with objectives Athena and Athens Owl to the right.

I was proud of my team as they faced every challenge the mountain threw at us. Long distances, dangerous crevasse travel, fluctuating temperatures, and exposed climbs on rotten rock only seemed to make them stronger as the trip ground on.

 

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Parting shot of Mt. Olympus rising above the Blue Glacier.

Dan was given no quarter on his first major glacier climb, and both he and Derek rose to the challenge in completing their first alpine rock lead climbs. The tougher the conditions, the bigger their smiles, the more dangerous the route, the louder they laughed. I’ve always been lucky to have veterans like these at my side in the wilderness.

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Joshua picking a line.

Over the course of the climb I was left with the following thought: Each one of us turned to the mountains to find our way when we left the ranks, and each one of us continues to lead their fellow veterans to help them find their way after the war. Like the generations of veterans who have come before us, we have returned to the lands we once defended to heal.

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On the approach.

While the lands we fought for will forever be intertwined with our lives, their importance to us is far greater than our individual purposes. These lands symbolize the very heart and soul of our nation, and our warriors are once more needed to defend them.

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David Brower High Camp below Olympus.

Our wildest places define America itself, and it is in these wildest places that we will define our legacy for generations to come. We spilled our blood on foreign soil to preserve them, and now we must once again lead our countrymen in fighting to protect them. Go into wilderness to find your way, fall in love with the lands you defended, and lead our country in defending them a second time.

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Derek and Dan on Athena’s Owl.

I’d like to personally thank Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla, above, for an amazing climb. I can’t say enough about your great display of character in tough situations. I’d also like to thank Sierra Club Outdoors, Veterans Expeditions, and Suunto for their generous sponsorship of this climb.

Climbing-to-Olympus

Joshua on lead.

All photos are by and with permission of Dan Wiwczar (Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Outside Adventure Film School graduate).

VetEx Alaska Expedition with Wild River Guides

July 29th – August 7th, 2013

Disabled Fly Casters and Army Veterans on the Togiak River


 Originally posted here:  http://www.wildriverfish.com/reports/disabled-army-vets-on-the-togiak-river/

By Mark Rutherford


Our crew being extracted just prior to storm rolling in.

Our crew being extracted just prior to storm rolling in.

A week on the Togiak River with Warren MacDonald, who fly fishes from his wheelchair, and with Nick Watson – disabled Army Ranger / founder of Veterans Expeditions, and Dick Watson, his father – a Vietnam Veteran.

From the trip log: “Some hours we passed through schools of salmon and Dolly Varden Char and other hours we fished through a pristine river devoid of fish but full of beauty. We traveled in all kinds of weather and that felt like we were earning our place among the wildlife on the landscape, as only those who live exposed out in the elements, can earn their passage. Some days we saw a powerboat from a fishing lodge or from Togiak Village, and they gazed at the wheelchair lashed on our raft and raised a hand of greeting.

I knew within seconds of meeting former Army Ranger Nick Watson that his outlook on life and his good attitude about challenges would help make our fly-fishing expedition a success. As he deplaned in Dillingham I reached out to shake his hand and was amazed at what he handed me! Oops I should have remembered that it was his right hand that had been re-shaped by 6 surgeries.

The partial hand that returned my handshake was strong and calloused and the human face above it smiled saying that he was pleased to meet me. His father, Dick Watson, reached out and crushed my hand saying that he’d fished for Striped Bass all his life in New England and was excited to learn to fly fish with his son for salmon and trout.

Down the hall rolled our third angler, Warren MacDonald on an all terrain wheelchair. Warren is a “double- below the knee- amputee”. He had a big grin upon arrival and while we headed to the baggage claim I told him that I was surprised at how he’d deplaned so quickly. I couldn’t mentally grasp how he’d descended Dillingham’s old-fashioned aircraft stairs, which are like those used on DC 3’s in the 1950’s, as fast as the other passengers. He explained in a very understated manner that he appreciated the flight crew’s offers of assistance to transfer him to an aisle wheel chair and help him down the stairs but that he’d maneuvered down the aisle and then the stairs using his arms, torso, and the stumps of legs. He said it takes him more time explaining to various airport agents how he could manage it by himself -than it takes just launching down the stairs.

I wondered how well would Nick do fly fishing with one good hand and how Warren would manage with no legs and how would Dick Watson learn to fly fish after a lifetime of bait fishing in the salt? None of those answers were clear at first but as the week passed the group’s fly-fishing and wilderness travel success built upon ten thousand bits of technique. The other question I pondered is: will fly-fishing grow and evolve with the participation of these disabled anglers and Army veterans? By participating will they change the sport?

VetEx Co-Founder Nick Watson even caught fish.

VetEx Co-Founder Nick Watson even caught fish.

Dick Watson returned from his tour in Vietnam while I was still in high school in the early 1970’sm and he spent the next 30 years building a steel fabricating business in New England. Within an hour of landing in Dillingham we found ourselves asking Dick if he could repair Warren’s wheelchair where metal fatigue had caused the chair seat to fail. His answer was, “Of course I can fix it. Have I got access to some materials and tools?” So to keep the expedition moving forward Dick went to work on repairs that will probably last the life of the chair. That was just the first instance where Dick and the other participants “welded” the trip together using technique brought from their life experience and adapted to the challenges of Togiak River travel. 

Vietnam Veteran Dick Watson gets dropped off at Togiak Lake AK

Vietnam Veteran Dick Watson gets dropped off at Togiak Lake AK

Our fly-fishing objective was the Togiak Wildlife Refuge where we’d raft and fly-fish 60 miles, nearly the entire Togiak River. We planned to camp using alpine mountaineering tents for shelter and we would share the workload among the group. We had a strong team. In addition to Warren, Nick, & Dick: three of my experienced Alaska fishing instructor / guides had volunteered for the trip plus Patagonia Fly fishing Ambassador Dave McCoy. All eight of us were eager to pack up and get underway. We discussed the challenges of Alaskan weather, and floatplane flying through the mountains, plus changing river water levels might pose for our group. We felt prepared for the challenges, however there was one element still not addressed.

Alaska chair shot Dave

Warren MacDonald catches fish from his chair. Photo by Dave McCoy

Warren’s legs were amputated from a backcountry accident in Tasmania several decades ago leaving him with very short leg stumps so that no fly fishing waders could fit. Team members Brian Malchoff and Dave McCoy looked at my collection of Patagonia waders and selected a pair that Warren proposed to radically alter for a custom fit. After trial fitting, then by trimming part of the wader legs off with scissors, and working with various waterproof tape products Warren put on re-purposed waders which he felt would keep him dry and were tough enough that he might be able to “walk” using them to protect his stumps on gravel bars.

At Togiak Lake, in the heart of the 2 million acre Togiak Wilderness, we began the adventure. Our weather was spectacular. From the floatplane we saw Brown Bears, Moose and Bald Eagles as we neared Togiak Lake. We unloaded the plane, rigged rafts, strung up fly rods, built a camp, and caught a Coho salmon and an Arctic Char for dinner. Beer was cooled to river temperature sipped while Loons were laughing on the lake. We had arrived.

Nick, the former Army Ranger, is probably “constitutionally incapable of complaining”. He has full use of his left hand and partial use of right hand. Nick learned a “serviceable” fly-cast through hours of practice at Togiak alongside his father. But fly line management was a challenge for him with only one functional hand. Think about fly-fishing one handed and try your own experiments next time you are casting. Embracing the challenge, by week’s end Nick had figured out how to make the casting and line management process work and took the largest Salmon of his life and countless sea run Dolly Varden Char.ak what it looks like

Dick Watson talked of retiring soon from a lifetime of lifting and welding heavy steel. He spoke reverently of gathering with old buddies each week to surf cast chunks of bait into the Atlantic. Dick was the angler who I thought would have the toughest time learning to fly fish. Indeed Nick and I had considered the prospect that he might not be able to master the elements of fly-fishing! We wondered if we should pack a spinning rod as back up? We were so wrong! Dick was resolute. He learned steadily building on each day’s experience. In fact he was so passionate about the sport that he fished from dawn to dark, from the day we arrived at Togiak Lake until moments before the floatplane picked us up at the end.

Warren MacDonald’s amputated legs might seem like a barrier to expeditionary fly-fishing but when you hang out with outdoorsmen of Warren’s caliber you come to understand that they’ve already excelled at so many challenges that they just take it “in stride” and create solutions as challenges arise. So he began his fly-fishing career by redesigning his waders and rebuilding his wheelchair. Then, he pushed out into the current and began to cast.

The Watson's on a gravel bar camp that was the norm.

The Watson’s on a gravel bar camp that was the norm.

There were fish caught. Lovely fish – Rainbow Trout, Arctic Grayling, and Dolly Varden Char! There were Chum Salmon, Coho, and Sockeye.

As the Togiak river unfurled before us, there were bald eagle chicks on the nest and mink scampering along the shore with fish in their jaws. Arctic Terns screeched when we rowed past their island nesting territories. A mother brown bear and her cub stripped the flesh off a salmon while we passed the binoculars back & forth. One afternoon, when the wind was fierce and we were searching for a camp in the lee of a sheltering bluff, a Gyrfalcon swept past us hunting sandpipers on the wing.

Fly-fishing evolved over the centuries because it’s been infused with the genius of creative individuals who adapted new materials and techniques to an ancient sport. This week Warren, & Nick, & Dick took up Alaska’s Wilderness fly-fishing’s challenges.

Perhaps when Dick Watson is back home in New England he’ll consider the fly rod for native Brook Trout or his beloved Striped Bass. Nick and Warren who live in the Rocky Mountains have thousands of miles of creeks, rivers, and alpine lakes in their back yards. I have no doubt that they’ll each take the techniques learned on the Togiak River and adapt to the fly-fishing challenges ahead of them.

We want to thank John Merritt and Jamie Ferry for their generosity. Without those two compassionate fly fishermen this type of experience for disabled anglers would never, ever happen. This program, funded entirely from John & Jamie’s generosity, is five years old and inspires anglers to dream about Alaska. We also thank the lodges and guides in Bristol Bay who meet disabled anglers on the river and stop to chat and share fly patterns. All of us thank the disabled anglers who’ve participated and supported this program with suggestions and advice. You are an inspiration for everyone in the fly-fishing & outdoors community.

Thank you Veterans Expeditions http://vetexpeditions.com/, Warren MacDonald http://www.warren-macdonald.com/, Patagoniahttp://www.patagonia.com/us/ambassadors, for inspiring us to go on expeditions into the unknown. Thank you Dave McCoy for the photography and fly fishing expertisehttp://www.emeraldwateranglers.com/

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