Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No Two Things More Similar

22 April 2015
Medicine Park, Oklahoma
1,001 Feet Elevation

Below is an edited excerpt of a piece I wrote addressing the similarities between the military and mountaineering.  The commonalities of the two may surprise you. 

"No Two Things More Similar: The Military and Mountaineering."

I’m leading a team of eight Soldiers on an expedition to Mount McKinley.  We’re at 17,200 feet.  High Camp.  For the last eight hours we have labored our way up the mountain battling steep, icy slopes, exposed, narrow ridge lines, voracious winds and thin air.  Hazards are everywhere.  Most of us are exhausted.  Some of us have splitting headaches.  All of us want to rest, but we can’t.  Our work is not done for the day.  We’re just getting started…  

I’m leading a platoon of Soldiers in Afghanistan.  We’re on a dismounted patrol near the Pakistan border.  Hostile territory.  For the last twelve hours we have marched our way through mountains battling rocky slopes, relentless heat, and heavy gear.  Hazards are everywhere.  Most of us are exhausted.  Some of us are dehydrated.  All of us want to rest, but we can’t.  Our work is not done for the day.  We’re just getting started…  

We move into priorities of work.  We need to secure our campsite, our patrol base.  We start fortifying our position by building barriers to keep unwelcome things out.  Some of us take out shovels and start digging, others begin removing important items from their packs.   Leaders meet in the middle somewhere.  They discuss the operation.  We’re dehydrated.  We need water.  We start up a stove.  We need to eat.  The wind picks up.  We’re cold.  We put on more clothes to stay warm, but struggle to layer properly.  Our gear gets in the way.  The water comes to a boil.  We purify it.  We see movement in the distance.  What was that?  It starts snowing.  Its getting dark.  Where’s my headlamp?  Our feet are wet.  We need to change socks.  Some of us start dozing off to sleep.  We’re tired.  We need rest.  Our feet are wet.  Boots come off.  Where are my dry socks?  Where are my damn socks?  “Here, drink some of this.”  Warm water, no, Gatorade!  “Hey, where are we?”  We’re very tired.  Who’s making dinner?  Some of us fall asleep.  “Wake up!”  Don’t you know we’re exhausted?  Too tired to eat.  Some of us anxiously stir about.  They cannot sleep.  Worry overcomes them.  What’s out there?  What lies ahead?  What happens tomorrow?  What was that noise?  This place is scary.  I’m glad I have my team with me…

I have had ample time to ponder the similarities between the military and mountaineering, but perhaps there’s no better way to prove their likeness than comparing stories.  Written above are two accounts of my mountaineering and military experience.  Aside from the time and place and a few other details, both accounts play out the same way.  Detailed planning led to a long training process which prompted travel to a foreign, unfamiliar land.  Hard work, followed by more hard work brought us to hazards.  We mitigate hazards.  We carry heavy packs.  There’s uncertainty.  Doubt.  Hardship.  Teamwork.  Brotherhood.  A team.  The team! Without the team none of this is possible.  Survival, perhaps, is not possible.  We struggle, but we survive.    

Both of these stories have many things in common, but one thing is most similar:  The team.  Both stories revolve around a well bonded, well maintained, well equipped and artfully synchronized group of people able to adapt, overcome, and achieve in the face of adversity.  Injuries, failures, broken equipment, poor communication and at times, death, are all possibilities or likelihoods.  But we soldier on.  We climb on.  We’re Brother’s in Arms and we share the Brotherhood of the Rope.  They’re different terms, yet still the same.  And that is why I believe mountaineering comes so natural to service-members.  Some technical skills change, equipment may differ, but at the very core the concept remains the same - plan, prepare, reduce risk, overcome adversity, work together, work hard, persevere and at times, get lucky until ultimately, the objective is reached.  

I’m leading a team of soldiers - past, present and future - up Mount Everest.  We’ll attempt to reach new altitudes, higher than any soldier has been before.  We’ll labor our way first to the mountain - the objective.  We’ll establish a base camp - a patrol base.  Then we’ll climb the mountain - assault the objective.  Along the way we’ll battle hot and humid conditions at lower altitudes then cold, dry, windy conditions up high.  Hazards are everywhere.  We’ll be tired.  We’ll be hungry.  We’ll have headaches and we’ll be dehydrated.  We’ll want to rest and put off our work until later when we’re feeling better, but we won’t.  We’ll think back on our times in the army - in Afghanistan, in Iraq, during long training events and Ranger School.  We’ll think of the Brothers and Sisters that worked hard for us when we needed help.  And we’ll think of the people we worked hard for when they needed our help.  We might not be expert mountaineers, but we’re experts in many other things that will equip us well when on the receiving end of a difficult mission - in pursuit of a lofty objective.  We know how to make team, lead a team, be a part of team.  We’re Brothers and Sisters in Arms and we’re Brothers and Sisters of the Rope.  We’re the US Army Everest Expedition.  And we climb to “Just Save One.”

From an edited excerpt of: 
“No Two Things More Similar: The Military and Mountaineering” 
By Captain Matthew Hickey

Follow the teams progress, get the latest updates, and donate to the cause at  

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Friday, March 6, 2015

It Starts With A dream...

06 March 2015
Medicine Park, Oklahoma
1,001 Feet ASL

I read an article today. "The Mount Everest climbing season has begun," it read. I perked up a bit. It is that time of year, I thought to myself. Mountaineers are arriving at Kathmandu International Airport. Nervous. Anxious to get climbing. Smog residing around them obscuring a view of the massive Himalayan peaks looming in the distance. Mount Everest is near here - a short flight to the village of Lukla and a week's trek gets one to base camp. From there, the summit sits about 11,000 feet above. That distance, both horizontally and vertically, takes about fifty days to cover. If a mountaineer is fit, able, organized and lucky he might make it all the way, but many will not. That's mountaineering. That's the nature of an expedition. No matter how much preparation, events are still unpredictable. No matter how much physical training, the thin air of the death zone still has a say. In the coming months, the hopes and dreams of these climbers will manifest themselves on the slopes of the world's highest peak. And I'll have a keen eye set on the events that transpire.

A year from now I'll step off an airplane onto that same tarmac. Nervous. Anxious to get moving. Smog will obscure my view of the mountains. A few days of hustle and bustle in cramped and chaotic Kathmandu will give way to a flight to Lukla. From here, in the Himalayan foothills, I'll begin the trek to Everest Base Camp passing through Namche Bazaar and other small Nepalese villages nestled between steep crumbling slopes and roaring rivers. Eventually, after miles of hiking, I’ll reach an altitude just below 18,000 feet. I’m in the famed Khumbu Region of Nepal that is synonymous with Mount Everest and the Sherpa people. This is Everest Base Camp. The trek will have ended, but the climb has just begun. A series of acclimatization trips and load hauling up and down the mountain eventually makes way for a shot at the summit. At least I hope so. But before any of that becomes reality, many events must occur.


Before every expedition becomes reality, it starts as a dream - lofty, inspiring, motivational, but unsupported. That dream becomes an idea when it is shared with others.

"Captain Hickey, I have an idea. Let's put together the first team of army soldiers and veterans to climb Mount Everest," Harold said to me over the phone.

I had never met Harold, nor spoken to him. Harold is a senior-year Cadet at West Point. An athlete. A leader. And a motivated young army officer not afraid of challenges, looking to make a difference in the world.

I could hear the enthusiasm and desire in his voice, "I know we can make this happen," he continued.

Having led or been a part of many expeditions, I know the difficulties associated with them. Acquiring gear, organizing equipment, funding, fundraising, and training all have to happen and that’s before an expedition even begins. I've never been to Everest, but I have spent a lot of time with those who have. "Everest is a headache, a bureaucratic nightmare, and physical torture," they'd say to me, "but if you can pull it off and for the right reasons, it'll be one of the best things you do in your life."

I should have said, "No, Harold, this sort of thing cannot happen, it’s just...too hard." But what kind of excuse is that? It’s too hard? I've wanted to climb Everest ever since I began mountaineering as a teenager. I've wanted to plant my ice axe on top of the world and know that I'd achieved something great, completed the near impossible and overcome thousands of vertical feet worth of obstacles on the mountain and off. Now Harold was presenting me with an opportunity - a small glimmer of an opportunity, but an opportunity none-the-less and I was about to say no because it was too hard.

"Let's do it," I said without hesitation. "If any group of people can pull off something like this, Harold, it’s the community we belong to - the army, West Point, athletes. We accomplish hard things, what’s one more?”


Over time, our idea became a concept. We put together a support team with people dedicated to funding, promotions, IT, legal, expedition planning, physical training, etc. The ball started to roll. The concept lent its way to the next phase: support - financially, logistically, medically and the like. We received phone calls from people, companies, corporations and non-profits all wanting to be part of the endeavor and this was all before we officially launched our campaign!


This brings us to today.  The ball is rolling faster. The pieces are coming together. What once was a dream is slowly turning to reality, but not quite yet.

There is much more to do before our dream is truly realized. Harold and I have created a not-for-profit organization called US Expeditions and Explorations to serve as the foundation for this sort of dream. Our vision, "to inspire service-members - past, present and future - to challenge themselves or a small team with a lofty, focused endeavor in the field of exploration, philanthropy or science to promote healthy and inspirational lifestyles.”

Our Mount Everest Expedition will kick this off. We have collaborated with other non-profit organizations to raise funds and awareness for the cause of the continued mental health of Veterans.

A year from now I hope to be leading a team of soldiers - past, present and future - to the summit of Mount Everest. In doing so, we'll attempt to become the first team of US Soldiers to reach the summit of the world and furthermore we'll be contributing to a number of great veteran organizations and causes.

This is the first of many posts I will publish as our journey transpires.

Stay tuned.

Aim high, climb higher!


Matt Hickey
Captain, US Army
Expedition Leader