We ran 10 trips this winter season snowshoeing, mountaineering, ice climbing, and fat biking in New Hampshire and Colorado. We had just under 200 veterans and active duty military get outside with us this winter season.
We had beginners out all season and had some advanced vets out pushing their limits. We had trips with 50 vets out in several smaller teams and we ran trips with 5 vets pushing their skill level.
We made new partnerships, picked up some new sponsors, and ran our winter trips through the support of private dollars.
We had fun, we laughed a lot, and we grew our community to new heights. We combined trips with fundraisers, created some other fun fundraising opportunities, and grew our leadership. We brought in new board members and other talent that is taking our small organization to the next level. In short, we had our best winter season yet and we have released our biggest summer schedule to date http://vetexpeditions.com/index.php/schedule/.
Get outside VetEx Nation! See you out there in 2016.
A team of Veterans undertakes the first fly-fishing expedition on the Kanektok River of 2015; adapting techniques of “LRRP”, Long Range Reconnaissance and Patrol.
From the trip log of June 27th, 2015. “The team of 7 Veterans accompanied by a journalist assembled in Dillingham and joined the staff of Alaska’s Wild River Guides. We studied the topographic maps of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge and reviewed our expeditionary goals then got busy packing the minimal amount of camping gear, clothing, and fly fishing equipment needed to accomplish the first raft descent of the Kanektok in 2015.”
We planned to travel lighter than standard guided trips to enable us to efficiently explore farther from the established channels and pioneer some new camps off the main river channel. To do this we’d forgo traditional tents in favor of Black Diamond Megamids and Bivy sacks under a group tarp shelter. We’d drastically reduce the amount of food we’d carry and cut weight by configuring ½ our rafts as paddle rafts, saving almost 100 pounds in oar frames and oars. We asked participants to shave weight in their personal gear so that rafts would be as light as possible. Continue reading 3rd Annual Alaska LRRP Fly-fishing Adventure June 27th – July 5th with Wild River Guides→
This years 3 day Browns Canyon expedition lived up to it’s billing. Browns Canyon is now Browns Canyon National Monument and we celebrated this new designation with our friends at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Dvorak Expeditions, and 21 military veterans representing every service branch and every conflict from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. The vets on this trip served every role from guide to participant.
We had 2 long days of paddling whitewater, and one day of rock climbing in camp as well as art classes by Curt Bean and Art of War. Veterans were able to spend time together navigating boats and socializing in camp about the past and the future. “This trip grounded me last year and set me up for a great summer. I have been thinking about this trip, the vets I met, and the adventure we had together ever since. I have been looking forward to this years trip in a very big way, looking for more adventures with my brothers and sisters” says Navy veteran Jordan Daniel.
This winter we ran snowshoe and ice climbing trips in New Hampshire, New York, and Colorado. Hundreds of military veterans attended our trips. Our 1st Annual VetFest in North Conway, New Hampshire kicked off the season with Ice Climbing for all abilities and a successful Mount Washington mountaineering summit attempt. VetFest saw vets and military from all over the Northeast. It was a great way to kick off the winter season with gear givaways, guest speaker Steve Arsenault, and so much more. Stay tuned this winter as we will make this years VetFest even bigger. Thanks to the VICE group and Cathedral Mountain Guides for teaming up with us and creating such a fun winter event for our vets. Continue reading VetEx 2015 Winter Recap→
Veterans Expeditions, a Colorado-based non-profit that reconnects service members to one another, the land they fought for and outdoor employment opportunities, will take its second Browns Canyon expedition June 21-23.The rafting and climbing expedition is in partnership with Friends of Browns Canyon. Dvorak’s Raft Kayak and Fish Expeditions will be the outfitter and will provide guiding on the river for 15 participating veterans of diverse abilities and eras from around the country. Lee Hunnicutt of Salida is the trip coordinator.
“Our first such mission in June 2013 was an unqualified success, and we want to build on that,” said Hunnicutt. “Veterans Expeditions co-founder and friend Nick Watson and I share a belief based upon our own individual experiences recovering from the effects of combat and the difficulties faced while trying to reintegrate into civilian society. Each of us, and countless others, found the solace we sought in the outdoors. Wilderness provides an opportunity to view your life in relation to something far greater and can help you find or create a stable center inside you, one that you can revisit when needed. This concept has proven itself over and over, from Outward Bound to Veterans Expeditions. Lives are changed for the better by the wilderness experience.”
According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, 22 veterans take their own lives each day. Many more struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, lives upset by multiple deployments, financial difficulties and delayed benefits.
Watson, a former Army Ranger, recruited participants from the VetEx community. In 2013, VetEx ran more than 30 trips across the United States, getting hundreds of military veterans outside and earning the honor of 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.
“The time spent out with all these veterans and all these service stories is nothing short of awesome,” said Watson. “Veterans let their guards down with one another, and out came the stories of war and civilian life struggles and success.”
This trip is fully funded by donations at no charge to the veterans. 100% of funds raised go directly toward trip expenses, with no administrative fees or salaries.
If you know a veteran who might be eligible for Veterans Expeditions, or to volunteer or contribute, please contact Lee Hunnicutt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Watson at Nick@vetexpeditions.com.
About Veterans Expeditions
Veterans Expeditions is a veteran led, chartered non-profit in the State of Colorado. Veterans Expeditions has an independent board and operates nationwide. Their mission is to empower veterans to overcome challenges associated with military service through outdoor training and leadership. Learn more at www.vetexpeditions.com.
About Friends of Browns Canyon
For years, a local coalition comprised of recreationists, sportsmen and local businesses have been working to protect Browns Canyon. The Friends of Browns Canyon, along with bipartisan lawmakers, are working towards permanent protection of the approximately 20,000-acre area.
This winter a team of VetEx veterans went to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. We went with big plans of new partnerships and quality time with long time partners. Keen set us up in their booth Wednesday through Friday of the show. We interacted with Keen staff, Keen customers, and show goers all day long in the booth. Things started to heat up for pint sales and happy hour. Keen donated all of the proceeds to VetEx. Thanks for the continued support Keen.
VetEx veterans had the pleasure of hanging out and talking with Wade Davis after his talk at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast. Wade is the author of Into the Silence, a spectacular book on World War I and the military veteran climbers who took on Everest, Mallory included. This book is a must read for the veteran climber. Mr. Davis writes of war in such detail and accuracy. The reader can defiantly draw comparisons to then and now. Those veteran climbers paved the way for VetEx today. Many of those WW I vets were unemployed and looking for peace and a future in the outdoors.
Wade talked with our group about his book, Into the Silence, and his current effort to save his homeland in The Sacred Headwaters. A story of the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass in Northern British Columbia. The knowledge, subject matter, and passion Mr. Davis has on these subjects is impressive. I have never spoken with a better speaker and story teller. We will make sure that VetEx vets will have opportunities in the future to speak with this amazing man and all he has to teach and tell us.
The VetEx leadership team had the chance to speak with Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. It was great to speak with Sally about all her job entails. Fascinating woman working hard in service to this countries wild places and open spaces.
We attended the Mountain Hard Wear lunch and got updated on all the new designs and specifics for their new line.
We wrapped up the show at the Kahtoola booth. Kahtoola was our first sponsor in 2010 when most folks would not give us the time of day, Kahtoola wanted to make sure our veterans were in their snowshoes and microspikes. We will always be loyal supporters of Kahtoola as they have been very loyal to VetEx.
We attended the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year party on Thursday where Stacy Bare and Nick Watson (VetEx Co-Founders) were presented with the 2014 Adventurers of the Year honor. Thanks National Geographic for recognizing our veteran run, veteran led trips and expeditions nation wide.
It was a great show for VetEx as we got to meet so many new faces and hang out with old partners to talk about future trips and the future of veterans outside. Thank you once again Keen, Kahtoola, and National Geographic for making our show so eventful.
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.
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.
On August 15th a team of VetEx veterans set off to tackle the 5 peaks of the Northern Presidential Range. In all, 15 Miles and 8000 feet elevation gained climbing Mt. Madison, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Clay, and Mt. Washington.
We started early and had a spectacular weather day. Conversations were had about future trips and what was coming up for everyone. One veteran was busy working and getting through college, another was starting up a guiding company, one vet was not a vet at all, but still on active duty, another was working hard at getting other veterans outside. We walked and we walked. Lots of conversations were had about the fun times had in uniform and some other conversations about the tough times had by all members of our group. What a day. It was like a retreat and an ass kicking all wrapped up into one long day spent outside with your piers. If you have never experienced such a day out with veterans, then you may want to join us next time.
So why do we do it some might ask? The reply is up to the veteran. For VetEx, we see the value in veterans accomplishing their outdoor goals together. Magic happens on these trips. Vets get to experience what they miss about the military and then take it all back home with them. The long days replicate the types of effort needed to summit big mountains around the world and provide good training opportunities for future expeditions. Many of our veterans enjoy and work well in this type of outdoor environment. Come get out with us and see for yourself.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
VetEx teamed up with Dvorak Expeditions to run our first whitewater rafting/rock climbing expedition in Browns Canyon Colorado this June. This trip will run annually with the help of local fundraising in Salida Colorado. Contact VetEx to find out how you can help with fundraising or sign up for next years trip.
This trip was three days in Browns Canyon with two nights spent out under the stars. Twelve veterans and five non-veterans made up the trip. The veterans had the opportunity to guide the boats down the river and climb canyon rock to their hearts content. The vets on this trip spanned from Vietnam to just home from Afghanistan. The dynamic of the group was very positive with plenty of great conversations of good times and bad times spent serving this great country of ours.
We will leave you with the pictures of the trip that tell the story better than words. This trip was made possible with fundraising from Jax Fish House/Big Red F Restaurant group Boulder CO. Thank you Keen for donating river sandals to all of our veterans on this trip. Thanks to Friends of Browns Canyon for the help and support. See you next year.