Friday, June 06, 2014

Spartan team attempts Denali summit

by Sgt. Eric-James Estrada
4-25th IBCT Public Affairs

6/6/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Arctic paratroopers are testing their might and strength tackling the tallest peak in North America as they began their climb May 29.

Mount McKinley - or "Denali" as it's frequently called in Alaska - stands at 20,237 feet. From its base to its peak, it rises 18,000 feet and is considered the tallest mountain in the world (Mount Everest is the highest).

A five-man Spartan team from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, will climb Denali to showcase their abilities as arctic warriors trained by U.S. Army Alaska northern warfare experts.

Additional team members include one Soldier from the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, Alaska and two Soldiers from the Vermont National Guard's Army Mountain Warfare School based in Jericho, Vt.

The Spartan team conducted an air insertion into the Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp, which sits at 7,600 feet, on Wednesday, May 28.

A typical ascent to the summit following the standard and most popular route along the West Buttress has a 55-percent success rate among climbers and can take anywhere from 18 to 23 days to negotiate the 13,000 foot change in elevation. Common hazards in attempting to reach the top include extreme cold (even in summer), altitude illness, crevasses, avalanches, ice and rock fall, and extreme weather.

Army Capt. Matthew Hickey, a field artillery officer with the brigade and a native of St. Paul, Minn., is the Spartan expedition team leader. He is no stranger to Denali, having successfully reached the summit in 2011, but states that just because he's made it to the summit before doesn't mean this climb will be easier.

"The mountain changes," Hickey said. "The people you're with are different, even yourself; you change. You look at the mountain differently every time you go. If anything, I would think that this would mean more because I've had the opportunity to share the experience with Soldiers and try to climb it for a bigger reason than just a goal."

Hickey and the rest of the Spartan expedition are climbing Denali to demonstrate USARAK is the foremost command to transform Soldiers into cold-weather operators.

"USARAK as a whole is trying to get back to its roots as the world's premier location for arctic warriors," Hickey said. "To climb Mount McKinley is a way to demonstrate not only USARAK's intention, but it kind of showcases our ability to [be] arctic warriors."

The training for the expedition has been long and grueling, Hickey said, with everything from a seven-mile sprint on the first day of training to various mountaineering training events to include skiing, hiking and glacier traversing.

Fellow Spartan team member, Spc. Matthew Tucker, a cavalry scout with the 1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment, and a native of Grandfalls, Texas said he needed to add skills to an already impressive repertoire.

"I have a lot of technical ice climbing and rock climbing that I've done, but I was horrible on skis and I really didn't know anything about glacier travelling," Tucker said.

After completing the mountaineer course at Alaska's Northern Warfare Training Center, Tucker said he felt more confident in his abilities.

"By the end [of the course,] I was comfortable and more confident," Tucker said. "I just have to improve on skiing."

"We're there representing 4/25, and USARAK and the Army," Hickey added. "As far as other people are concerned, we're Soldiers. That's what we have to be on the mountain."

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