As an offshoot of the successful partnership between the Wounded Warriors program and Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, Mammoth resident Craig Knoche and other volunteers are working to help rehabilitate injured veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan wars by climbing all the 14,000 foot peaks in California.
Last weekend 8 soldiers with a variety of injuries sustained overseas came to the Eastern Sierra to climb to the 14,252 high summit of White Mountain. Earlier this summer, soldiers and volunteers with the Wounded Warriors Fourteener project climbed Mt. Langley and Mt. Whitney.
On this latest summit trip, Craig Knoche reports that eight wounded, but still active duty soldiers joined the trip. Of the eight participants, four had been on previous trips. Seven of the soldiers made it to the summit. The eighth, a 56 year old veteran of Vietnam, the first Gulf War and two tours in Iraq, decided to take a hike around the bristlecone pines rather than head for the summit.
One of the soldiers who made it to the summit of White Mountain had suffered injuries when a suicide bomber managed to get into a mess hall at an army base in Iraq. After having his leg amputated, Knoche says that the participant toughed it out with a new prosthetic leg that he received three days before the trip to the summit of White Mountain.
Another Navy Corpsman had cervical fractures after a vehicle rollover. Knoche says that the participants in this Fourteener project have a wide variety of injuries, from shrapnel wounds, upper and lower extremity amputations, concussions, and post traumatic stress disorder.
With snowfall and weather that surrounded the climbers, but never seemed to hit them, the members of the Wounded Warriors Fourteener project made the summit in clear conditions between 11:30 and 12:30 on Sunday.
With three summits under their belt, this was the last fourteen thousand foot peak for this year. Knoche hopes to keep the program going, with five summits next summer, and the last five California Fourteeners in the summer of 2010.
Mammoth Mountaineering has supplied tents, stoves, and other camping gear, but Knoche says that the volunteers need more money to continue the fourteener project. If you’d like to help out, call Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra at 934-0791 and ask about the Wounded Warrior Fourteener project.