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Soldiers talk about climb, danger on Denali

By Bonney Bowman Photojournalist: Andy Nitchman - 8:08 PM June 23, 2014

Climbing the tallest mountain in North America is not an easy mission, but a group of soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are celebrating accomplishing that challenge.

One of the soldiers was lucky to make it home safely after putting his equipment through a much tougher test than originally planned.

Of all the gear the 4/25 climbing team took up Mt. McKinley, Spc. Tyler Campbell is most thankful for his harness.

On the fourth day of the climb, one wrong step almost trapped him on those slopes forever.

“We were walking down and there was a snow bridge that I walked on and it was just too weak to hold me up and I just started falling about 15 feet. I fell into a crevasse,” Campbell said.

The solider said he was scared, but that his team had trained for this type of incident.

“Before we left for the mountain, we made sure we understood all the risks the mountain was going to pose and how to mitigate all of them,” said team leader Capt. Matt Hickey.

It was time to see if that training, and their Army gear, could stand up to one of the worst dangers Mt. McKinley had to offer.

“Adrenaline just kind of took over and it was kind of hard to think,” Campbell said. “Everything was cluttered for a good few minutes, but then I remembered the training we went through. We did it a lot. Started going through the steps and that helped me calm down too — just going through the steps of the training to get back out of the hole.”

He made it out and was able to keep heading up the mountain.

Hickey said it was a wake-up call, showing just how daunting the mission was.

“It’s a monumental effort to get up there. Hundreds, I think over 1,000 people have signed up to try to make it happen this year and the success rate right now is less than thirty percent,” Hickey said.

It was slow going. Each step got tougher as they climbed in elevation.

The soldiers say working together helped them keep momentum through the harsh conditions where other groups faltered.

“Everybody’s going to have a bad day and so you always got to be there for that one guy that’s having a bad day. A lot of teamwork,” Campbell said.

They beat bad weather and altitude sickness, reaching the summit on June 15.

“When you get done with it and you finally get back down to more comfortable conditions, you look back and say what we had just achieved as a team was something pretty special and not something a lot of people can say they’ve done,” Hickey said.

The soldiers of the U.S. Army Alaska are expected to be the premier Arctic fighting force in the country.

Testing their skills and equipment on the highest peak in North America is a great way to prove what they can do, they said.

A second team of soldiers from Fort Wainright also attempted to summit McKinley.

They were forced to turn back at 14,000 feet due to bad weather and injuries.

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