When does Mountainaineering become technical climbing?

Like ‘what distinguishes a ship from a boat?’ or ‘when does a teenager become an adult?’; Keith’s trip to Mount Washington will step across a similar threshold. He climbed the prominent, glaciated 14,410′  Mount Rainier last July. It was a magnificent ascent: the weather was great, the mountain in very good condition and Keith was well up to the sustained challenge. Why will his ascent of 6288′ Mount Washington be any kind of an evolution from such a majestic peak as Rainier?


He’ll be heading out onto steeper terrain. Slopes where a fall would put you airborne, rather than sliding, or tumbling down. On most mountains, an ice axe is carried to stop a fall. It is a magnificent tool that has evolved to match the requirements of the era. Ice axes for the mountains are designed to aid us in balancing, become an anchor for the rope when buried in the snow, a tool to probe for hidden crevasses and stopping a fall down a slope, by an unroped individual, or a sliding rope team.

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The ice axes Keith will be using in New Hampshire are specialized tools for hanging on the sides of vertical ice. The spikes he’ll clip onto his boot and prosthetic leg have horizontal tines protruding beyond his toes, to tap into vertical ice, allowing him to climb up smooth, slippery steep-as-a-glass-skyscraper terrain.

Humans are not meant to be in places like this.

Without these tools, we would only look at these features from afar.

On steep ice, Keith will use ropes to protect himself from a fall. As we climb, we’ll place screws into the ice, each one located higher, to shorten a potential fall. They are turned in by hand and removed by the second climber, for use in the next rope length, or pitch. For most climbers, the rope is their safety net and is used in dangerous terrain. Most of us want to be able to make a mistake, without suffering disastrous consequences. When we see a fall, in a movie, for example, many of us turn away and can feel the pit of our stomach churn. The vast majority of climbers use ropes to minimize the consequences of a fall.

Keith and his military family forge ahead, where the only safety nets they have are each other. Unlike  mountaineers, they are facing adversaries wanting to kill them.

Disaster for the military, has deep consequences. There, they are not standing up to the dangers they face for sport or personal fulfillment, rather to protect others.

What separates Keith from the rest of us, is his fearlessness in his recovery from disaster. I suspect there was a moment where he decided he was going to boldly live, rather than shut down in the face of debilitating injuries.

What is the quiet message we can take home from a day in the mountains with Keith?

We can all recover from our personal disasters. And, even more so, we can help others to recover as well.

By contributing to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, you are helping families begin to recover from the disaster of a parent not coming home from combat.