Tag Archives: Salida Colorado

3rd Annual Browns Canyon 3 day whitewater paddling and Climbing Adventure July 19-21 2015

 

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.

BC 2015 7We 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.

BC 2015 10

Vets on this trip once again prove that all disabilities and abilities can come together and explore together as a team. At VetEx, we only see ability as our vets show us this time and time again. Our trips and expeditions are for all vets, all eras, all service types. We run trips this way because we are all veterans. This is our community. Continue reading 3rd Annual Browns Canyon 3 day whitewater paddling and Climbing Adventure July 19-21 2015

VetEx Whitewater Program Expands Colorado Trips

 

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Nonprofits to provide wilderness experience for veterans

Posted  by  & filed under Press Releases.

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.

2013 VetEx Browns Canyon crew
2013 VetEx Browns Canyon crew

“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.”

2014 VetEx Browns Canyon crew
2014 VetEx Browns Canyon crew

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 [email protected] or Nick Watson at [email protected]

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.

Learn more at www.brownscanyon.org.

2014 Browns Canyon VetEx crew
2014 Browns Canyon VetEx crew

National Geographic Society: Innovators Project

Nick Watson: Bringing the Wilderness Solution to Vets

Mountaineering provides a powerful boost to veterans returning from war.

National Geographic Society
THE INNOVATORS PROJECT
Text by Mark Jenkins

 

A climber suddenly falls into a crevasse and Nick Watson dives into the snow with his ice ax. The rope goes taut and Watson, a bearded, muscled man, digs in like an anchor, and the climber is caught.

“You OK?” shouts Watson.

There is no answer from the climber down in the hole. He is unconscious or injured, perhaps bleeding.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out!” yells Watson anyway.

In a matter of minutes, Watson has tied off the dangling climber, slammed two stakes into the snow, and set up a five-to-one pulley system. Using his own body weight, Watson gradually hauls the injured mountaineer out of the crevasse.

Back on the surface, the unconscious climber suddenly awakes. “Wow! That really works.”

It was a simulated mountain rescue—a teaching scenario for a group of former soldiers, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, all standing in the snow.

“This is the way you save someone’s life,” says Watson.

He’s talking about basic crevasse rescue techniques, but he might as well be talking about the organization he founded, Veterans Expeditions, or VetEx, a nonprofit that takes veterans into the outdoors.

“Vets often go from a world with deep camaraderie, commitment, and excitement to a world where they are isolated, at loose ends, and bored,” Watson says in explaining the concept behind the program. Watson speaks from experience—he is a former U.S. Army Ranger—and he knows just how psychologically perilous the military experience can be: Veterans commit suicide at more than twice the rate of civilians.

Having worked as an alpine guide and a counselor in wilderness therapy programs for over a decade, Watson, 40, also believes in the healing force of nature and was convinced that a vigorous outdoor experience would be tonic for veterans, a way for them to “reconnect with fellow soldiers, get outside, and push themselves in a healthy environment.” VetEx—created with another veteran, Stacy Bare—was the outgrowth of that conviction. In its first year, 2010, VetEx took 16 veterans into the mountains for climbing; in 2011, it was over 100; in 2013, almost 300.

Things changed for me when two of my Ranger buddies killed themselves. These were guys I grew up with. I was there in seconds after they shot themselves, but there was nothing I could do.

By consciously replacing the fellowship of arms with the fellowship of the rope, VetEx hit on a novel remedy for readjustment to civilian life—a soldier by soldier, hands-on approach that larger veterans organizations like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) couldn’t provide.

In Watson’s family, joining the military was part of the natural progression of manhood: One grandfather served in World War II, the other in Korea; his father served in Vietnam. He spent over four years in an elite Army unit, the Third Ranger Battalion, on numerous international deployments.

“I pushed myself in the military and had many intense experiences,” says Watson, “but things changed for me when two of my Ranger buddies killed themselves. These were guys I grew up with. I was there in seconds after they shot themselves, but there was nothing I could do.”

He left the Army soon afterward, but it took years for him to recover from the trauma of those deaths. He traveled around the country, worked seasonal jobs, and slowly found solace in the wild. “A therapist I was seeing at the time, a very wise woman, said something that changed my life: ‘You aren’t your experiences; you are how you process your experiences.'”

Thoughtful and passionate, with a sturdy body and three fingers missing on his right hand from an oil rig accident, Watson has been running the organization on his own since 2011, when Bare moved on to direct the Sierra Club’s veterans programs in New England and North Carolina. “We’re a grassroots organization,” says Watson. “It’s friends telling friends.” VetEx has only one paid employee—Watson—and calls on volunteers to run the outdoor “meetups” throughout Colorado.

“Our biggest challenge right now is funding,” says Watson, who relies on his partner, journalist Chris Kassar, 37, to work as VetEx’s unpaid “PR and ‘Fun’ Raising Director.” Keen shoe company and Kahtoola Snowshoes are their only equipment sponsors. “We get new vets outdoors every month, and we’re changing their lives. We don’t need a lot of funding, just enough to keep going.”

Watson, who was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2014, along with Stacy Bare, says his goal is to get thousands of vets outdoors by 2020, training veterans to lead trips all over the country.

Picture of Stacy Bare climbing a mountain
Stacy Bare, a former Army captain and Bronze Star recipient and VetEx co-founder, climbs Mount Rainier in Washington State. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS KASSAR

 

“Immediate, Intense Trust”“What Veterans Expeditions does, at its core, is re-create the positive aspects of the military without all the negatives,” says Demond Mullins, 32, an Army veteran who saw combat in Iraq in 2004-2005.Meeting up with Veterans Expeditions was so important to Mullins, a professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, that he flew across the country just to spend a couple of days climbing with fellow vets. In the snow-covered Rockies above Leadville, Colorado, they practiced technical mountaineering skills, such as moving as a roped team, self-arrest with an ice ax, crevasse rescue, crampon technique, and ascending fixed lines.Mullins has participated in more than a dozen adventures with VetEx. “On every trip I meet new vets,” he says, kneeling in the snow at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), adjusting the carabiners on the climbing ropes for a crevasse rescue scenario. “There’s always this immediate, intense trust. We have the same point of reference. We know what it’s like to put our lives on the line for each other.”Mullins, who is built like an Olympic sprinter, loves being outdoors, “working as part of a team, relying on one another—things we all learned in the military, but [now] without the threat of violence.”Epidemic of SuicideAccording to a VA report last year, 22 veterans kill themselves every day in the U.S., double the number of suicides among nonveterans. In 2012, 349 active-duty soldiers killed themselves—more than the 295 who died in combat in Afghanistan that year. Statisticbrain.com reports that 4,487 American troops died in Iraq, about half the number of soldiers who kill themselves every year. In Afghanistan, 2,229 Americans have died; more veterans than that will kill themselves at home in the U.S. before Thanksgiving this year.

One in five veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq and a stunning 30 percent of Vietnam vets have PTSD.

The U.S. military is aware of the problem, if uncertain what to do about it. The VA has set up a crisis hotline and a website offering help through direct phone contact, online chats, and other resources, but VA hospitals are notoriously backlogged and slow to respond to veterans struggling with mental illness. Brigadier General David Harris recently wrote on the Eglin Air Force Base website that “it is important for us to re-address topics such as suicide prevention and awareness.” He encourages friends and family to be alert to the “clues and warnings” of potential suicide, such as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, impulsiveness, and reclusiveness. “When we observe our wingman appearing depressed … request help early on.”

Clearly, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by despair: Almost 70 percent of suicides among veterans are by Vietnam War soldiers, 50 years old or older, a community that suffered a particularly hard return to a society that was largely hostile to the war they fought.

And suicide isn’t limited to those who saw combat. A recent Department of Defense study, citing heavy drinking and depression as root problems, found that almost 80 percent of suicides are by soldiers who did not experience combat. A 2014 report in JAMA Psychiatryrevealed that almost 20 percent of Army enlistees struggled with depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or “intermittent explosive disorder”—a condition characterized by uncontrollable attacks of rage—before they joined the service.

And then there is the pervasiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder. One in five veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq and a stunning 30 percent of Vietnam vets have PTSD. Other soldiers have returned home with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), often caused by the concussive force of an improvised explosive device (IED). Unlike scars and amputations, these are the “invisible injuries” of war.

Picture of Nick Watson and veterans
Nick Watson teaches crevasse rescue to veterans in Leadville, Colorado. PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROLINE TREADWAY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

 

Gut-Level UnderstandingLuke Adler, 28, who served in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, is in Leadville for the climb. He is wearing his military-issue camo backpack and heavily insulated khaki military pants made for the extreme cold. In Afghanistan, he had been hit by IEDs twice and has a TBI. “This is the thing,” he explained, as he adjusted a pulley system for hauling up an injured or unconscious climber: “You do epic things in the service. It’s life or death. When you come home to civilian life, you really miss that intensity.”After he got out of the 82nd Airborne, Adler returned to his parents’ home in Iowa and fell in with what he describes as a “bad group of vets” who were using drugs and alcohol to get through the day. “It took about a year to straighten myself out. I realized all I was doing was hurting myself and everyone who loved me.” Currently enrolled at Colorado State University, he is preparing to become a high school social studies teacher.All of the vets on the Leadville outing experienced combat. Here in the mountains, they fall easily into conversation with each other about their service. It is a singular brotherhood. Their experiences were too difficult for their civilian counterparts to fathom.Samantha Tinsley, 34, earned a degree in international relations before joining the service as an enlistee, not an officer, and was deployed all over the world for a decade. John Brumer, 27, led his own 12-man squad through the mountains of Afghanistan (and is now starting his own brewery in North Carolina). Robert “Robbie” Hayes, 28, and John Krueger, 26, were in the same unit, fighting together in Afghanistan’s opium-ridden Helmand Province. Lee Urton, 32, a former Marine, was part of the initial invasion of Afghanistan and says he “lost something in the war, but I would never take back a minute of it.”It’s a common sentiment. They have suffered, but they have no regrets about joining the military. Each man and woman did something that the vast majority of Americans will never do: defend their country with their lives. One participant sketches a scene of combat with just a few words and everyone immediately knows what he’s talking about. They nod in agreement. There is no need for apologies or bragging. “They get it,” as Watson says. “They understand each other on a gut level.”

The Climb 
The next morning, after a day of training in the snow, the VetEx team snowshoes to the Tenth Mountain Division hut below the west ridge of 13,209-foot (4,026-meter) Homestake Peak. This hut is a fitting redoubt for the team to organize their attack on Homestake, only intermittently glimpsed through the swirling blizzard.The Tenth Mountain Division was created during World War II specifically to train soldiers in winter survival, skiing, and mountain warfare. The division trained at Camp Hale, built at an elevation of 9,300 feet (2,835 kilometers), 17 miles (27 kilometers) north of Leadville. In 1945 the Tenth Mountain Division breached the Apennine Mountains and played a pivotal role in the liberation of northern Italy. Some 4,000 “ski troopers” were wounded, and 992 lost their lives.By now the vets, many of whom scarcely knew each other 24 hours ago, are good friends. They’re sharing their life stories and scheming to go climbing together in the near future. Wars are fought outdoors, and returning to the outdoors is a salve.The night before, as we bunked in the homey Leadville Hostel, Watson had told me that “something happens on these trips that I never saw with civilians. There’s this incredible bond that forms, this connection. These men and women need each other. They were trained to work together toward a common goal, and that’s exactly what mountaineering is all about.”

Picture of Nick Watson talking to veterans
Nick Watson (on left) sits with veterans Demond Mullins (center) and Lee Urton (right) as they talk about the impact of mountaineering and climbing on veterans. PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROLINE TREADWAY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
This summer, the vets of VetEx plan to attempt Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. In 2015 they’re mounting a difficult expedition to 20,322-foot (6,194-meter) Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in the United States. Watson, along with Chris Kassar and vet Dave Lee, 35 (who served in the modern Tenth Mountain Division in Bosnia), are heading to Denali in two weeks to attempt the West Buttress route as a scouting mission.As for Homestake, after hours of climbing, the team is stopped by a howling whiteout and forced to turn back before reaching the summit. “Couldn’t see a thing,” Watson said afterward. “It was great training. Just like military”. 

VetEx Whitewater Rafting and Climbing Browns Canyon Trip June 4-6 2013

Browns VetEx group river 2VetEx 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.

Browns boat Sam at BowWe 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.

Browns VetEx group river 3Browns VetEx group river 5browns web 1 on belayBrowns climbing 1Browns dropBrowns boat in big waterBrowns VetEx group river 4browns flag fold

VetEx Veterans Day 2012 ReCap

  
Benson’s Tavern in Salida CO Photo by Scott Ostrom                                                         

VetEx Veterans Day 2012 meet-up was held in Salida Colorado, Veterans Expeditions new home.  Our crew met at Benson’s Tavern in Salida Saturday evening to talk gear, frigid weather conditions, and enjoy some food together.  We got caught up on each others lives, and were introduced to those veterans and non-veterans we had not met. We enjoyed our evening and then met at the gear room to make sure everyone had what they needed given the frigid forecast for Sundays hike.  Thank you Benson’s for treating this group of Veterans so well at our pre-Veterans Day dinner and social.

The next morning was Veterans Day.  We met at Cafe Dawn in Salida for coffee and baked goods.  Veterans received a free cup of coffee on Cafe Dawn.  Thank you to the Cafe Dawn staff for being so good to us.  After Coffee it was time to pass out the gear

VetEx at Cafe Dawn Photo by Scott Ostrom

sponsored by Keen, Nalgene, FITS Socks, and Kahtoola.  All the veterans received new Keen boots, Keen Duffel Bags and t-shirts, FITS Socks, and a Nalgene Water Bottle.  Kahtoola provided us with Microspikes for the traction needed on this snowy Veterans Day.  Thank you sponsors for making this Veterans Day more like Christmas!

Geared up and caffeinated, we set out for the Mt. Shavano trailhead   We assembled, talked hazards for the day, and headed out for the high country.  It was cold.  Around zero degree Fahrenheit at the trailhead  and well below zero above trealine.  Great conversation was had by the group as we walked.  Tales of service continued from the evenings social as well as new stories of what Veterans Day means to this group of vets.

Approaching Tree Line Photo by Scott Ostrom

Conversations on the VA, G.I. Bill, school, work, and opportunities for veterans were heard as we hiked higher and the weather got worse.  The group was settling in nicely as we put on more clothes, ate some snacks, and prepared for the deteriorating weather above treeline.

As we left the safety and security of the trees, the conditions got even worse. We were now hiking into the teeth of a very consistent and angry wind.  We put our heads down and took the abuse like veterans know how to.  When we reached the saddle below the summit, we pulled out the colors of this great Nation and we held on to it with all we had.  The winds were 90 mph and gusting higher.  We took photos and a short video of our moment and then we retreated to fight another day.  Mt. Shavano won the day, but something tells me this group of veterans will be back for more.

We got back into the safety of the trees where folks picked up their conversations as we walked happily back down the mountain.  We were a little battered, and everyone survived in good spirits.  As we reached the trailhead, there was talk of the next VetEx trip.  Talk of snowshoe jouneys, vets trying ice-climbing for the first time, and the desire to spend more time outside with other veterans, friends, and family.

VetEx Raises the Flag for All Those Who Served Photo by Scott Ostrom
Whiteout on Mt. Shavano Photo By Scott Ostrom

 

Calling all Colorado Veterans: Climb Mt Shavano with VetEx this Veterans Day

VetEx invites all of Colorado’s Veterans (and out of state veterans) to climb with us this Veterans Day.  This is not your average Veterans Day parade and that is how we like it.  Come out and climb Mt. Shavano with VetEx this 11/11/12.

What:  VetEx Veterans Day hike of Mt. Shavano (14,229 feet) Salida Colorado (under 3hrs. from Denver).  Please reserve your slot with [email protected]  This is a moderate 10 mile round trip hike of a 14er in late fall / early winter conditions.  The elevation gain is 4,430 feet.

When:  Sunday November 11th, 2012 Veterans Day at 6: 40 am, leaving Safeway for the Black Gulch Trailhead (9,800 feet) at 7am sharp!

Where do we all Meet Up:  Salida Safeway at 232 G St. Salida, CO 81201 or the Corner of G and 3rd St at 6:40 am.

 http://local.safeway.com/co/salida-2817.html

Pre and Post hike Social:  TBA.  Looking at possible options and will have something for Saturday 11/10/12 at 5pm and Sunday 11/11/12 at 5pm.  Stay Tuned!

Where can I stay, camp, etc:  http://www.simplelodge.com/  There are many options.   Email [email protected] with lodging or any questions related to the event.

What Gear do I need: 

Day pack items required by each individual to provide and have with them:

-Day pack
-64 oz of water/ 2 liters/ 2 Nalgenes (enough water for all day in the mountains)
-Raincoat/parka mountain weight
-Warm jacket / heavy weight fleece / down sweater / pile jacket
-Winter hat
-Warm gloves
-Sun hat
-Long sleeve shirt / long-john style non-cotton
-Short sleeve shirt non cotton
-Headlamp (we may walk many miles in the dark)
-Hiking boots (Waterproof is key as there will be snow)
-Sunscreen
-Lunch, snacks, lots of them

All technical snow/ice gear with be provided by Kahtoola (snowshoes/microspikes)

This is a minimal list.  Any Gear questions or Gear needs to [email protected]

View from the summit of Mt. Shavano. Photo by Chris Kassar