Reaching New Heights: Blind climbers attempt Denali
The preparation, packing and perseverance are finally paying off for two wounded warriors.
Major Scotty Smiley and retired Master Sgt. Marty Bailey spent a year and a half getting ready for their trip to Alaska’s highest mountain.
“Ain’t nothing holding us back but fear,” Bailey said.
Like all climbers at base camp, they’re eager to set out for Denali’s summit, though neither can see it.
“I was a platoon leader nine years ago, serving our country in Iraq,” Smiley said. “I met a suicide car bomb on April 6, 2005 and lost all eye sight.”
Bailey lost his vision just three years ago. “I was working with the Department of Defense and I was in a grenade attack and shrapnel took out my right eye and my left optic nerve,” he explained.
Bailey co-founded the organization Blind Strength to get both of them to base camp and raise awareness about the advancements to cure blindness.
Most of all, he wants to show losing your vision doesn’t have to slow you down.
“My life has changed but what you don’t realize is you’re the same person. You still have the same drive and ambition. That’s kind of what I want other people to realize. Just because you come back hurt, you’re not broken,” Bailey said.
There are a total of eight people in their climbing group — three sighted team members for each of the men.
Eric Alexander has led blind climbers to six of the highest mountains in the world. As the Blind Strength expedition leader, he hopes to do it again.
“Standing on top would be incredible,” Alexander said. “I’d be speechless I think to see them accomplish that.”
It’s not just about conquering the 20,237-foot peak; it’s about the journey as well.
“Why I do it? It’s honestly for the friendship and the adventure. The summit is a little token of a prize you get if everything goes well,” he laughed.
Smiley and Bailey share a passion for their families and a love for their country. It’s their similar sacrifice though that will get them through this climb.
“It is great to have someone who understands the difficulties of the climb, the difficulties of life,” Smiley said.
“One thing I like about it is you can’t ever let yourself wuss out,” Bailey laughed. “Even if I start feeling sorry for myself, I can look over at Scotty and he’s driving on and he can do the same for me. I can’t say, ‘Well, you don’t know what I’m going through, I’m blind.’ He does know, so I have to keep moving and keep up with him and vice versa.”
As they set off down Heartbreak Hill they know it won’t be easy.
“You can move off the trail and basically your feet can slip out from under you. It’s a constant battle to walk in the footsteps of the man in front of you,” Bailey said.
With a solid team to guide them, one step at a time, they know their hard work will be worth it once they reach the top.
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