On May 24, 2015, Demond Mullins, MARTI research associate, embarked on a challenging hike to the summit of Mount Denali in Alaska with the Veterans Expedition. The summit of Denali sits 20,320 ft. above sea level, making it the third tallest mountain in the world, in addition to having a summit higher than Mount Everest. The team, which consisted of combat veterans and one National Geographic journalist, completed the grueling hike on June 18, 2015.
The hike was independently organized by the participating veterans for two years before they set foot on Denali. The veterans did not hire a professional to accompany them, which meant they had to rely heavily on each other. Considering the extreme circumstances these veterans endured throughout their service to the United States, they became accustomed to relying and looking after fellow comrades. At approximately 14,000 ft., the veterans group encountered a situation that prevented them from traveling for 14 consecutive days; the temperature at this time lingered around -50 degrees. Perrault, a participating veteran, explained that having extensive experience with waiting situations out enabled them to endure the rigid 14-day setback without mentally unraveling.
Mullins explained in detail the significance of the Veterans Expedition and the role extreme outdoor recreation plays in the physical and mental health of combat veterans. According to Mullins, climbing Denali and participating in extreme recreation offers combat veterans an opportunity to engage a specific habitus they have grown accustomed to during active service. Taking the leap from a life that presents constant dangers to a “mundane” life at home proves rather difficult at times.
Mullins explained that many combat veterans seek an outlet that allows them to tap into extreme life situations as a way to find normalcy. In many aspects, the Veterans Expedition and extreme outdoor sporting represents a method of informal therapy, especially for veterans who have experienced injuries, PTSD, and reintegration.
One of the most important factors that contributed to the success and safety of this veterans group was their propensity to watch over each other. As a military group, they possessed the necessary skills to ensure that each individual could successfully complete the climb without injury. Mullins explained that other groups who did not communicate effectively or check their comrades for health risks experienced injury and, in extreme cases, fatalities. Overall, the training and life experiences of these combat veterans contributed to the success of this expedition.
As part of his experience, Mullins has submitted a chapter entitled “Veteran’s Expedition: Tapping the Great Outdoors” that will be published by the Civilian Lives of Veterans, edited by Louis Hicks. Read more about the Veteran’s Expedition.