Mount Elbert No Barriers Fundraiser climb

I was about to post my trip report about our annual No Barriers "What's Your Everest?" climb of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado, which we held on on June 3rd. But an email from one of the participants arrived and it sums up why I do these things so well.

This is from Todd Rafter, a Sales Director at Intrado, which is a great Colorado company that has been a supporter of No Barriers for many years. Todd was one of two employees selected for this climb and, as you’ll see, he didn’t quite know what he was getting into.

 I wanted to send you a quick note regarding my experience of the climb of Mt. Elbert with the No Barriers group, although I am not sure I have the words that describe my absolute appreciation.

 As you know, the adventure began Saturday evening with a dinner and presentation of the recent merger of two great organizations, No Barriers and Global Explorers. From the moment I walked in the door, I was welcomed by a friendly group of people, who seemed genuinely happy to have me, and the others there.

After just a couple of minutes of being at the Delaware Hotel, dinner was called and we were asked to “find a seat”. Little did I know that the seat I was about to choose, was right next to a true American hero, Steve Baskis. It was obvious, upon meeting Steve that he had no sight. He went on to share part of his story, that he lost his vision while performing a security detail for a US General, when they were hit by a roadside bomb. What makes Steve a hero is the positivity he exudes in everything he says and does. Since his accident, he has run in the Chicago marathon, done a half triathlon, been chronicled in the new movie HIGH GROUND, where he and 10 other injured soldiers reached the summit of Lobuche in Nepal. I knew that this was going to be an experience not soon forgotten.

 After dinner, the organizers presented a short program on the “new” No Barriers. The work they are doing for a wide variety of individuals is truly inspiring, and really got me to thinking about what more I/we could do…for that I am very appreciative. We were introduced to a number of individuals, from six wounded soldiers—with injuries ranging from blindness, to amputated limbs, to PTSD in the Soldiers To Summits program—and an inspiring young man, Terry Garnett, who I believe has been blind since birth. Terry has flourished in the Global Explorers program, climbing a number of peaks, and recently obtaining his degree in Mechanical Engineering, landing a job with Northrop Grumman, and signing a lease on his first apartment…TRULY AMAZING.

At 4:30 AM, Sunday morning, my alarm is going off, so I can make the short drive from my hotel to meet up with the rest of the group for a 5:30 departure to Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado, yeehaw!

From the minute I heard I had been chosen for this wonderful event, the little voice inside my head questioned whether I was up for the challenge with the short notice. What I don’t think had really sunk in, was that I had no excuse not to think I could do it.

What I mean is that at the trailhead, being with all these individuals who have faced so many more challenges in their lives than me, were all “gung-ho” to get the hike going, and from that attitude I drew inspiration, and that was the point I knew I had what it took to make the summit.

 Initially the hike started with folks walking with their friends or co-workers, but soon things changed, at least for me. Before long, I was hiking up the mountain, finding myself behind Steve and his guide, and what was amazing to me, they were keeping a quick pace. At no time was he letting his blindness get the better of him, and he marched on and up.

Shortly after a break at a midway station above the tree line, where we were served hot coffee and snacks, I got into a group, lead by Chad Butrick, a soldier who lost his leg. Chad was awesome; he was extremely outgoing and very engaging. Chad was very knowledgeable about Elbert (as he made a scouting climb to its summit on Wednesday), as well as a number of the peaks in Colorado…he has climbed 50 of Colorado’s 54 14ers!!!!!!

One memorable point of the day is about 30 minutes from the top when we stopped to take one last gulp of water, and to eat one last power bar. A solo hiker, not in our group came upon us. As soon as he approached, he noticed Chad’s prosthetic leg and immediately said to him “That is bad ass”, and Chad, not missing a beat said “this isn’t badass, THAT is badass”, pointing at Terry, the blind recent-college-grad. I mention this because like the others, Chad didn’t seem to act like he had a disability, and was not interested in others thinking the same…pretty cool!

We finally summited the peak at 10:00 AM, and all had a very nice time on top of Colorado, taking pictures, and sharing our experience. Although I have climbed 8 14ers, before Elbert, this was the most gratifying of all, because so many unique individuals surrounded me.

What I had forgotten from my previous experiences was that the hard work was still ahead…the descent! As taxing as the climb can be, it was nothing compared to the pain of the descent. If you have ever done one of these hikes, you probably know that your feet and legs take a tremendous toll from three hours of constant pounding.

 After about 90 minutes, we made it back to the tree line, roughly the halfway point, for a well needed break. At this point, Lonna Donin and I had the opportunity to hike the remainder of the way with Dan Sidles, a military vet who in his words “had been blown up twice” while serving duty in Iraq.

By looking at Dan, you couldn’t tell he was injured; in fact he could stand in as a body builder. It wasn’t long into the conversation with him that it became apparent his injuries were of the PTSD variety. Dan has struggled through his return to civilian life, and on numerous occasions questioned his “being here”. It is through the support of No Barriers that he has drawn his strength to carry on and keep going, and I for one am thankful he has found this outlet.

 We wrapped things up around 1:30 Sunday afternoon, and the only thought racing through my mind was that I was a part of something very special. And when I think I have problems in my life, I can go back and reflect on my time with Steve, Chad, Terry, Dan and the others. Not that I feel sorry for them (because that is not what they want), but that I am thankful for the few hours I was able to be in their presence and draw strength and inspiration for what they have done and undoubtedly will do.

 So, if I haven’t said it “THANK YOU” to you and the Intrado team for being a part of something so neat, and letting me experience a once in a lifetime adventure! As I shared my experience with my team Monday morning, I joked that the only downside to this opportunity was that I was likely unable to be chosen next year thorough the raffle. So, if we participate again, please let them know there will be at least 5 hikers from Intrado, because I am in!!!!

—  Todd Rafter

If that didn't convince you of the power of this event, then check out this blog post from Jana Zunich. And here are many more photos from that great day.

I’m sure if you interview the 60 participants who reached the summit of Mount Elbert with us, they would all have similar stories. Those of us who are disabled draw inspiration from the others. And we get so much energy to carry on from the supporters of No Barriers!

Dave Shurna, No Barriers Executive Director, on the summit of Colorado's highest peak.

We raised a good chunk of change at this second annual “What’s Your Everest” event and we inspired a lot of people. I have set a personal goal of raising $1 million dollars for No Barriers so that programs such as Soldiers To Summits and Global Explorers can continue. That’s my Everest, what’s yours?!