Advancing National Service

These Blind Vets Train to Climb North America’s Highest Mountain

April 3, 2014
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These Blind Vets Train to Climb North America’s Highest Mountain
Mike Powell/Getty Images
The challenging Alaskan ascent doesn't intimidate these inspiring souls.

Scaling mountains can invigorate the spirit. But is the same true if you can’t see the view from the peaks you’re climbing?

Two inspiring climbers training to summit Alaska’s Denali are demonstrating that sight is not a barrier when it comes to mountain climbing.

During their service with the Army in Iraq, Scott Smiley lost his vision to a car bomb and a grenade blinded Marty Bailey. In March, the two met with climbing guide Eric Alexander in Summit County, Colorado, where they climbed Quandary and Lincoln peaks to train at high altitude and mentally prepare for their planned May ascent of Denali, North America’s highest peak. If they succeed, they will become the first blind people to conquer its challenging West Rib.

Alexander is a capable guide for the vets: He’s summited mountains across the world, and guided his friend Erik Weihenmayer toward becoming the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest in 2001.

Smiley, who continued his military service after his injury as a teacher at West Point and Gonzaga, told Melanie Wong of Vail Daily that he can still perceive the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. “I still think it’s one of the most beautiful things,” he said. “The air is fresh, pure and clean. I live in Spokane, Washington, and you don’t get those senses hitting you all the time. There’s the beauty of seeing things, but those pictures go to my mind and it puts a smile on my face.”

It will take practice and courage for the vets to learn how to find steady footing with their ice-climbing crampons and to keep their ice axes and ropes from tangling as they climb. Bailey and Smiley are chronicling their journey and accepting donations to help with training costs on their website Blind Strength. “This climb is drawing awareness,” Smiley said. “It’s about doing things that I enjoy and being an example on others not to give up on life and push through hard times.”

MORE: Meet the Paraplegic Who Inspires Others to Think Outside the Chair

 

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