When we first linked up with Tim Wayne Medvetz and The Heroes Project, they were attempting Carstensz Pyramid with First Ascent guide David Morton. It was a story of strength and struggle so, from that point on, we backed the effort and followed Medvetz in his drive to empower wounded warrior amputees up the world’s highest peaks, from Kilimanjaro and Vinson to Aconcagua. Each success story was incredible and tracking each brutal step of the journey to the summits was truly inspiring. For The Heroes Project, it’s six of the Seven Summits down and one to go. But the next operation is indeed a Big One since Medvetz has set his sights on Mount Everest, the tallest peak on Earth, for their next objective. In his latest report, our favorite unfiltered mountaineer provides the context, tracks the training and introduces the climbers for their current mission to Nepal.—LYA Editor
Words and Images by Tim Wayne Medvetz
When I met USMC SSgt Charlie Linville the day before his foot was amputated, there was only one thing that surprised me: finding out that he had requested the amputation himself. After being blown up by an IED (bomb) in Afghanistan a year earlier, Charlie had struggled with the painful and ineffective rehabilitation of his right foot. Surgeons had saved the foot, but internally it was too damaged for Charlie to have any kind of active life. He had been sitting at home for a year, and even though the docs begged him to keep wearing his brace in hopes that the foot would eventually heal, Charlie had had enough. He had called his doctor and told him what he wanted—to trade the foot for a prosthesis.
In 2006, Charlie joined the Marines straight out of high school, and after serving a tour in Iraq as a section leader with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, he came home and requested to be trained as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech)–you know, Hurt Locker kinda shit. To shed some light on the significance of that request—Charlie came back from Iraq in the heat of the war and asked to be trained for one of the most dangerous positions you can have in the Marines.
Charlie’s request was granted, and after finishing his training at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal in November 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan, where he saved countless lives by disarming IEDs (improvised explosive devices). On January 20, 2011, Charlie was performing a routine sweep with his team when an IED detonated beneath him and blew him straight into the air. The explosion severely mangled Charlie’s right foot and blew off several fingers. It also caused lower spine trauma and mild traumatic brain injury. Charlie was medically evacuated to a series of military hospitals, where he underwent extensive surgeries on his foot, back and head. The surgeons were able to save his foot. For a while, that is.
When I met Charlie at the San Diego Naval Hospital the day before his amputation, I told him about The Heroes Project and explained what we do. If you’ve been following the Eddie Bauer blogs over the years, then you know that we take severely wounded combat veterans up some of the tallest peaks around the world. When I told him we were always looking for a few good men, he laughed and told me he was already enlisted…Ha!
This is the part where I assess if he’s got what it takes to be a part of The Heroes Project and if this is something that he was willing to commit to. I would have said willing and able, but I left the able part out because frankly that is not part of our language here at The Heroes Project. He said that he would do whatever it took. Knowing that he was about to have his foot, along with half of his calf amputated, I told him that he should take care of himself and reach out to us when he’s out of the hospital and has his new prosthetic foot.
So the next morning when I answered a call from an unknown number, I couldn’t believe who was on the other end of the line. It was Charlie letting me know from his hospital bed, just two hours after getting his foot cut off, that he had what it takes and he wouldn’t let us down. It had only been two hours since the amputation, and he wanted to know when we could start training. I said, “Charlie, how’s your leg, how did the surgery go?” and he said, “Don’t worry about that—I’m your guy and I won’t let you down.”
The thing about Everest is that it’s seventy-five percent mental when you get up there. Yeah, you have to have the crucial training and skills, but getting to the summit is mostly mental, and there were three things that made me sure that Charlie had what it would take to attempt Everest:
One: He was a Marine. Enough said.
Two: He had requested to become an EOD (bomb) technician—one of the most dangerous jobs in the military in the heat of a war.
Three: He had decided of his own free will to have his foot cut off so that he could get on with his life.
I told Charlie that I was convinced he had the mental toughness to attempt Everest. But if we were going to do this together, I needed him to prove to me that he could at least make it to Base Camp and, most importantly, be knowledgeable enough to be a productive member of the team and not just some corporate A hole with a big bank account paying everyone to wipe his butt on the mountain.
Base Camp alone on Everest is at 17,598 feet. That’s higher up than the summit of any mountain in Europe except for one. To prepare for this kind of expedition, Charlie really needed to log some time at altitude. Sometimes people don’t think about it, but a lot of climbers start getting sick even at 14,000 feet, so having a base camp of 4,000 feet over that is serious business. I needed to feel comfortable that Charlie was going to be able to hang and at least make it at that kind of altitude before we even started talking about the Everest summit at over 29,000 feet.
After some serious rehabilitation and extremely hard work on Charlie’s part to get into climbing shape with his new prosthesis, he and I headed down to Pico de Orizaba in Mexico to attempt the 18,404-foot peak. I have to give Charlie credit—he climbed that mountain like a pro, especially considering that he had lost his foot only a few months earlier. After that climb, I knew he could make it to Everest Base Camp…first step: check. On the other hand, we still had a hell of a lot of training to do if he was going to have a shot at the top.
Having climbed Everest twice, I can tell you that it’s not just about being in good enough shape to make it up yourself—like I said before, you have to be a valuable asset to your team. That can be the difference between life or death up on the mountain. If one of your team members falls into a crevasse, you’ve gotta be able to perform a rescue operation. Everyone on our Everest team needed to be trained and able to perform rescues, and that included Charlie, missing leg or not. With that in mind, the two of us headed down to Ecuador and spent a month practicing rescue skills in the mountains, never dipping below 15,000 feet the entire month in order to simulate the endurance needed to stay at Everest Base Camp for two months. By the end of that month, I felt confident that Charlie was experienced enough in rescue operations to be a valuable member of the team. But he still had a long way to go.
Keep in mind that in between our expeditions, Charlie wasn’t watching TV on the couch. When he was back home in Idaho, he was training at the gym every day, going rock climbing, hiking local mountains—I mean, this guy wouldn’t quit. He was determined. From the start of our training, Everest had completely consumed his life: he ate, slept and breathed Everest.
Once we started getting closer to the Everest climb date, it was time to gear up. Eddie Bauer First Ascent was able to get us 90% of the stuff on our gear list for the Everest climb, which is pretty amazing. Loaded up with all of our gear, Charlie and I traveled to the Andes for 23 days and summited Mount Aconcagua, a 22,837-foot peak, in the middle of a whiteout snowstorm. That climb was a reminder for both of us of just how dangerous this kind of climbing can be and how quickly things can go wrong at that altitude. We saw two people die on the mountain while we were up there, and a total of five people died on Aconcagua this season. Coming down from the summit, there was one point where I really didn’t know if we were going to make it back to camp–the storm was that bad–but when we finally reached our tent and got inside in the middle of the storm, Charlie looked at me, smiling, and said, “What’s for dinner?” It was at that moment I knew he would make it to the summit of Everest. Are you kidding me? “What’s for dinner?!”
With Everest only a week away, things are starting to feel real. This climb will be a lifetime accomplishment for Charlie, but it will also be a major milestone for The Heroes Project and every Combat Wounded Veteran… I’ve climbed every one of the Seven Summits with a Wounded Vet, except for Everest. What Charlie has reminded me of through this entire process is that it’s not just training that gets you to the top of Everest. It’s about the character of someone who can summit the highest mountain in the world—and Charlie has it, without a doubt in my mind. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means crawling on his hands and knees up to the top. And that very well may be what it takes. Stay tuned for updates from the mountain.
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