After about 1.5 hours of hiking we broke out of the tree-line, just as the first licks of sunlight tickled the golden aspen trees on the slopes below us. We pressed onward with over 2000 feet of scree-field above us. The false summit was breeched just over an hour later. This was the toughest point of the climb, well above 13,000', fatigued, and out of breath, seeing the actual summit still looming high above was a bit of a stab to the ego. Led to some great discussions about persevering through trials and setbacks!
Everyone continued on, taking frequent mini breaks to catch our breath and take in the amazing view. The fastest reached the summit just after 0900, all 22 were on the summit by 1030! With all 22 team members on the summit we paused to take some pictures, do a few push ups, and comment on the amazing achievement. Reaching the summit was especially profound for several members of the team who (in reaching the summit) had just bagged their first 14er!!
After pictures those who had been on top the longest set out for the journey home. As the last of us left the summit we had the opportunity to high five the first ascenders of the USAFA Men's Lacrosse Team. The team had set out a few hours after us, but were reaching the summit in record time! All 50 members of the team reached the summit as well and took their own round of photos with the same AF and American flags.
What an accomplishment to have more than 70 members of the Air Force standing at the highest point in Colorado, all in the same day! The members on the summit represented Active Duty, Reservists, Civilian, and Retired from Fairchild AFB, WA, Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, and USAFA, Colorado!
-Maj Nichelle Somers, USAFA
//Note from the Directors//
We're very proud of the Airmen who took part in CO's high-point portion of the USAF 50 Summits Challenge. Can you believe it: over 70 members of the Air Force on top of their state summit? Outstanding! It's sure to be an experience that these Airmen recall with pride for years to come and likely a step in realizing their inner-strength and self-worth.
We wanted to highlight a story that exemplifies the professionalism of men and women serving in the Air Force. After reaching the summit of Mt. Elbert with the 50 Summits Challenge team, two of our Airmen noticed a young man on the summit who appeared ill. Capt Colin Merrin, who climbed Mt. Everest with the USAF 7 Summits Challenge in 2013, is well versed with acute mountain sickness (AMS)-- he made the life-saving decision to turn around just 2,000ft shy of Everest's summit after he began to experience debilitating affects of extreme altitude combined with a chest infection he was battling.
Colin and a SERE instructor from Fairchild AFB, WA approached the young man to check up on him. The boy and his friends had climbed faster than the adult in their group and were waiting on the summit for the rest of their party. Capt Merrin and the SERE instructor identified the symptoms the young man was suffering from as AMS and recommended the boys descend from the summit right away. The young men thanked them for their input and headed down the well-traveled trail.
Later, as Capt Merrin and the SERE instructor were descending with other Airmen, they came across the same young man. He was alone and separated from his group, yet still showing signs of confusion/lethargy (AMS). This time the Airmen took him under their wing and personally helped him down from the mountain until he was able to reconnect with his group.
It could have been a bad day on the mountain if a young person with AMS became lost, so we are very proud of the actions of these Airmen, but not surprised- that's exactly the sort of response we'd expect from the men and women of the US Air Force. Well done!