Iraq to Everest: Medic aims for earth's highest peak
December 28, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq -- There comes a certain time in the twilight of every soldier's deployment when it becomes time to begin dreaming about post-deployment plans.
Staff Sgt. Meghan Markson, a force protection manager with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, plans to remodel the St. Paul home she and her husband share.
First Lt. Jessica Westendorf, a Little Falls, Minn., native, and a sustainment operations officer with the 34th Inf. Div., plans to take a Caribbean vacation in St. Lucia.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Bari plans to climb mountains.
Of course, Bari, currently deployed to Contingency Operating Base Basra, intends to start small and work his way up: first a lowly hill, say like Pike's Peak in Colorado, then a little knoll, like Mount McKinley in Alaska, and then finally, his ultimate goal: Mount Everest in Nepal.
Bari, who has "always enjoyed doing stuff outdoors," said he found this calling in the woods of northern Minnesota last fall.
"I started rock climbing up in Duluth in the summer and fall of 2008," said the St. Louis Park, Minn., native, "and really, I instantly fell in love with rock climbing."
Trips across the Appalachian Trail followed, and Bari, a medic with the 34th Inf. Div., found himself falling in love with the art of the trudge.
"I really enjoyed the terrain, the angles that you take going up and down hills, especially wearing a pack," said Bari, who wondered if it was an Army thing. "It was a lot of enjoyment, just getting outside, kind of free out there."
Bari and his friends began to talk about taking a rock-climbing trip, but a different kind of challenge interrupted Bari's plans: a deployment to Iraq.
Bari's pre-deployment training brought him to Fort Lewis, Wash., where the looming, white specter of Mount Rainier sat teasingly on the horizon.
"The first time I saw Mount Rainier, I had that instant when I was like, 'wow, I'd really like to see what it's like on top of that thing,'" Bari said.
While at Fort Lewis, Bari immersed himself in books on mountaineering and its myriad dangers: frigid cold, glaciers, crevasses, high altitude sickness and falling. It wasn't until Bari's four-day pass that he was able to actually climb the mountain - and because of inclement weather, he was only able to reach 8,000 feet. Nevertheless, his will was undeterred.
"There was some times during the two months we were at Fort Lewis when I thought, 'well, I wonder if I start getting up there - it'll be cold and the oxygen is a little bit less and maybe I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, and I'll hate it - and I'll change my mind,'" Bari said. "But that didn't happen. I knew that the more I was climbing the more I enjoyed it."
His appetite whetted, Bari continued training in Iraq, where he compensated for southern Iraq's relative flatness by running voraciously, sometimes eclipsing 35-45 miles a week.
"Your leg strength: that's the power that's going to get you up the mountain," he said.
Once his deployment ends, Bari said he plans to take his legs and shimmy up Pike's Peak, which tops off near 14,115 feet. The route to the top of Pike's Peak is a simple path, a well-trod trail that requires maybe a day's hike. The peak mostly serves as a way to acclimatize to high altitudes, in addition to its role as a warm-up for Mount Whitney in California.
After Mount Whitney, Bari said he plans to finish off Mount McKinley, where he can gain experience working with ropes and ice and glaciers. After Mount McKinley in the summer of 2010, it's up to Alaska in the summer of 2011.
"After Rainier, the next big step is going to Denali National Park and climbing Mount McKinley," said Bari. "It's about 20,000 feet and it's in Alaska, so it's significantly colder and it's significantly higher. So that will be the last major training piece before making an attempt at Everest."
Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world at 29,029 feet, has long allured the brave and bold. Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary first scaled its craggy summit in 1953, over 2,700 adventurers have crawled their way up the peak locals call "Chomolungma," or saint mother. The mountain is so high, and the trail is so long, that to climb straight through is both foolhardy and dangerous.
"You don't start right at the base camp and go straight to the top," Bari explained. "You go up a little bit, set up a camp and get used to that elevation, and every so often, you actually go back down, basically to recover a little bit, and you then do that progressively up [the mountain].
"I think it's worth noting the highest point in the lower 48 is well under 15,000 feet. The base camp for Mount Everest is over 17,000 feet. So the highest point that I could do any training, without going to Alaska, in the United States, is in California, and even at the very highest point, I'm still well short of even the base camp of Everest," he said. "So that really gets me some perspective: What is all my training for' Getting me below the bottom."
While Bari has "absolutely zero experience mountain climbing," he didn't really have any serious running experience before his first marathon, either. In fact, Bari originally hated running, but as he trained, he grew to love running, and "it kinda grew from there," said Bari.
Since then, Bari has "kinda lost track" of how many marathons he has run, although he estimates the total to be somewhere close to 20.
Bari hopes that his mountain climbing plans blossom similarly. He has already contacted several companies, and he said that as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, it's simply a matter of saving money, staying fit and hoping for good weather.
And while there are many things Bari cannot control over the next two years, his plan, at least, appears to be rock-solid: start at the bottom, and through hard work and effort and sweat, climb your way to the top.