by Brad Bull
October 18 MONZO, NEPAL – Mountain climbing is an irrational pursuit.
On our extraordinary summit day, I had the honor of climbing with Specialist Steve Baskis. His combat injuries left him completely blind and with limited use of his left hand, but with an admirable inner strength that will always serve him well.
We left our high camp at 1:00 AM to clear skies and relatively warm air. We had experimented with a few techniques for climbing together on the trek in including Steve holding on to the back of my pack for direction or following the sound of a bear bell, which is how we typically travel with Erik. We opted for the bell approach with me in front of Steve and Jeff Evans following to provide adjustments and corrections in the event of difficult trail, which was most of the time.
I can’t claim to know what Steve was thinking as we left the safety of our camp, but he did begin to express a series of concerns that revealed his mindset. “I think I’m going too slow”, “I don’t think I trained hard enough” and “I don’t think my gloves are right” were some of his comments.
I view my role in this process as to lend encouragement from my skills and experiences. While these soldiers have been through a wide range of extreme experiences, summit day on a Himalayan mountain has unique parameters and pressures. When the opportunity came for me to help with this incredible journey, I was grateful for the chance for to show my appreciation for all that these heroes had done for me. There was also a serious responsibility to get these amazing people home safely.
Steve’s body and brain were functioning well. He was going through the constant evaluation loop that mountain climbers need to run in order to reduce the controllable risks. Jeff and I knew that left to his own decision making process, Steve would have turned around many times had we allowed him to go down a negative path. We responded to all of his concerns with a string of “you can do it”, “we’re moving well”, “have some food and water”. In some ways I feel guilty for blatantly dismissing his anxieties with easy answers. It would have been much more difficult if he had more subjective and existential questions like “is this worth the risk?”
Steve got married in January. Based on our lengthy trail conversations, his bride, Sarah, has many admirable qualities and his love for her is unquestionable. My encouragement of this mountaineering effort was easy because I knew Steve was strong and his questions were rational. Some of the soldiers had already turned around, so it seemed even more important to Jeff and me to have Steve summit as he embodies the incredible spirit of this expedition.
It was a long and arduous climb, but as the day unfolded, Steve’s indomitable attitude prevailed. He was actually the third person to summit! We had great views, the weather cooperated and we got everyone down safely. I am grateful that our encouragement in the form of not accepting Steve’s attempts to turn around worked out well. We achieved success on many levels. I am most grateful that I could leverage my knowledge to bring some benefit to these incredible soldiers’ mountain experience.