By Michelle Werts

Here on Loose Leaf, we often focus our discussions on places where forests, trees, plants, animals, insects, etc. thrive — or should be thriving — but a special story caught my eye this week. One that takes us way up north to Alaska to altitudes not often experienced by men and women and where plants dare not roam.

Members of another Wounded Warrior mountain-climbing trek: the 2011 Combat Wounded Warriors Denali expedition
Members of another Wounded Warrior mountain-climbing trek: the 2011 Combat Wounded Warriors Denali expedition. Credit: 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard

Within Denali National Park & Preserve sits Denali, a mountain commonly known as Mt. McKinley. Denali, meaning “The High One,” is the tallest mountain peak in North America at 20,320 feet and a peak that experiences some of the severest weather in the world. During the 2011 climbing season, the average high temperature at 14,200 feet was less than 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Attempting to ascend to Denali’s summit is not for the frail or faint of heart. In the 2012 climbing season, of the 1,223 registered climbers who made the attempt, only 41 percent succeeded.

Those 1,223 individuals included five American veterans. But these weren’t just any former military members — these veterans that tackled Denali are Wounded Warriors: two double-leg amputees, two above-the-knee amputees and a wounded warrior with severe muscle damage in his legs. For those unfamiliar with Wounded Warriors, these are extraordinary individuals who have suffered severe injuries while serving in America’s military. In 11 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq almost 50,000 people have been injured, and it’s estimated that more than 1,600 limbs have been lost.

In taking on Denali, the five Wounded Warriors would face some nasty weather and icy terrain — and do so with prosthetics that no one could be sure would hold up under the pressure of such an extreme environment. How did these men fair on Denali’s wicked mountainside? Watch the video below to find out or read about their exploits in this Fairbanks News-Miner piece.