By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)February 23, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- As Steve Baskis made the final steps to the 20,162-foot summit of Mount Lobuche, audience members erupted in cheers and applause, some wiping away tears.
On the screen, Baskis caught his breath as the camera panned around the Himalayas revealing the breathtaking sights he will never see.
"Being blind, I rely on hearing to experience things," he said. "I was listening to the audience. To hear the cheering and the clapping, it was amazing to hear that reaction."
In 2008, Baskis was a specialist with the now deactivated 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. At 22, his life changed dramatically when a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle, burning and blinding him and killing his friend and fellow Soldier.
Baskis left the Army and in 2010, he joined 10 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans participating in the first Soldiers to Summits program, which led disabled veterans into the backcountry for "wilderness therapy."
Filmmaker Michael Brown documented the journey, producing a feature-length film that reveals adrenaline and adventure as well as heart-wrenching emotion as Soldiers, Marines, a Navy master-at-arms and a Gold Star Mother share their stories.
"This movie was an intensely emotional experience," Brown said. "To see it on the big screen was awesome. (The audience reaction) was unbelievable. I was stunned."
"High Ground" premiered to a sold-out audience at the Boulder International Film Festival in Boulder Saturday, earning the "People's Choice Award" and "Best Call 2 Action Film."
In the film, Baskis described the day "the lights went out."
"It just felt like something bad was going to happen," he said in the film. "It was a beautiful day -- blue sky, tan desert. That's when everybody's life changed."
An improvised explosive device detonated as Baskis' vehicle drove over the bomb. The blast blew the 300-pound door, sending shrapnel through the cabin.
"It ripped through my buddy, Victor," he said. "That metal hit me in small fragments, super-heated shrapnel."
One piece of shrapnel struck Baskis in the temple while other pieces embedded in his skin.
On screen, Baskis revealed the burns on his arms and legs, highlighting a large burn on his neck, which he calls the "kiss of death."
"I'm okay with sharing," he said in a phone interview. "I think it helps. I was more nervous sitting in the theater hearing the audience reaction. I was amazed at how powerful it was."
Before his injury, Baskis said he had hiked and mountaineered. His first climb as a blind individual came Nov. 11, 2009, when he summited Iztaccíhuatl, a 17,802-foot dormant volcano in Mexico.
Baskis made the climb with Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind individual to summit Mount Everest. The two reunited for the Lobuche climb.
Since the Nepal expedition, Baskis has summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and plans to chase peaks in Ecuador and Russia.
"I'm just trying to stay busy," he said.