There is something glorious—and a little ominous—about a snow capped mountain peak when you realize you will be assaulting its summit to stand atop the world. Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. at 14,411 feet, the most heavily-glaciated in the lower 48. It claims an average of two mountaineering deaths each year. . . In 1981, eleven climbers died in an ice fall attempting to ascend it. Less than half those who start the climb make it to the top.
I met my assembled climbing team at base camp—fifteen other men, one woman, and a guide. I was the oldest, pushing 60. We had been instructed to be in top physical shape when we arrived. The others were young and looked strong as they described their conditioning routines:
“I run 15 miles a week…”
“I lift weights…”
They looked me over. I was an old man and not particularly impressive looking. They wouldn’t have picked me out in a crowd anywhere in the world. I’m also a man of few words.
“I stay in shape,” I said.
For team work drills at base camp, I showed up in blue shorts over red longhandles and an orange knit cap sporting a wild turkey feather. I wear whatever is easiest. I could almost read my teammates’ minds: That old fool thinks he’s going to climb the mountain!
The team roped together into five-man elements for the final assault against the mountain on the second day. The others were beginning to have second thoughts about me. The guide placed me on point of the lead element.
There is something incredibly exhilarating about climbing a mountain—the view, the camaraderie of like-minded adventurers, the challenge of facing off against a worthy opponent, of stretching muscle, mind and endurance to the limit.
“You had us all fooled, old man,” said a new friend, Tom, from New Jersey.
I grinned at him and kept thudding on. I had one goal and nothing was going to stop me. I’m single-minded that way.
One of my team slid off into a crevice. As leader, I hit the ice, dug in my crampons and ice ax and held.
Team members began falling out. Tom grew deathly ill from altitude and went back. Only seven of the original seventeen made it to the summit. As I was first element leader, I reached the top first. I was all grins, rosy red nose, and flapping turkey feather. The top of the world—at least the top of the lower U.S.
My wife Donna Sue met Tom when he returned sick to base camp.
“Chuck is my hero!” he exclaimed.
The guide was forming a climbing expedition to Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world. He asked me to be part of his team. It was probably the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid.
“Sergeant Kap is living proof that all Special Operations men are cut from the same cloth… Kap’s decision to serve alongside his fellow Rangers (in combat) after having his leg amputated is an incredible story of determination…” Brandon Webb, NY Times bestselling author of The Red Circle commenting on Back In The Fight by SFC Joseph Kapacziewski and Charles W. Sasser (St. Martin’s). Released on 7 May, Back In The Fight is now available at most book stores.