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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Shock And Awe

You think climbing Rainier is tough? Try it blind. Or with one leg. Then see who you pity.

by: Michael Perry, Photos by Gabe Rogel

Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
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Yesterday, retired Army National Guard First Lieutenant Ed Salau slipped the scarred stump of his left leg into a $30,000 hydraulic-fitted carbon-fiber and titanium prosthetic and headed for the top of Mt. Rainier.

He didn't make it.

But the end of the climb is not the end of the story. The story is how Salau–a trim man who still carries himself with the bearing of his 12 years as a Marine–stomped his way up to Camp Muir, well short of the summit but well above the clouds. How he went barefoot in the snow. Why–even knowing he would go no higher–he spent an afternoon flinging himself face-first into the slush, rehearsing self-arrest and getting kicked in the noggin for his efforts. And then there are all those terrific campfire tales only a one-legged man can tell–the one about the kid in Dunkin' Donuts, the one about the woman in the bar, and the one where he tells his teenage boy, "Son, I will plant my foot in your ass and leave it there!" The one about spotting the guy with the grenade launcher right about the time it fired.

There will be time for the stories. But right now it is late afternoon. The light is beginning to flatten across the Cowlitz Glacier. Several climbing groups are preparing for summit attempts, and there is a bustle of to and fro throughout the smattering of tents pitched in the Muir notch. Salau's group will strike out at 11 p.m., hoping to stand atop Rainier by morning. Earlier, the guides huddled, and then one of them–Art Rausch, who's summited Rainier 150 times–separated from the group to speak quietly with Salau. We've talked it over, said Rausch, and it's just not going to work.

Ed Salau understands why he is being left behind. Despite everything he has done since his last two-legged day on earth–skydiving, waterskiing, downhill skiing, running–he has learned, he says, that you are not going anywhere that one leg won't let you go. It is not about admitting defeat; rather it is about acknowledging reality. And there is strength in that.



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READERS COMMENTS

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

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May 19, 2011

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Ames
Jan 24, 2011

Excellent writing

Sung
Oct 21, 2010

I just want to thank you so, 1Lt Ed Salau for what you did and for who you are! Thank you so much again!

Dave
Oct 07, 2010

I know this is like two years later, but I found a back issue and thought this story was incredible. God bless you, Ed, for all you do for your wounded brothers and sisters, and for all you've done for the rest of us too.

Susie Bare
Jul 09, 2008

Ed, I belong to the Havelock Civitans and I was so impressed with you when you spoke to our club and I am still impressed. You are doing a very commendable thing by sharing with us about your struggle and others too, I really admire you soooo much ! keep up the good work ! Semper Fi

Donna
Jun 29, 2008

Thanks for telling this story...you did a great job Mike. I am proud of you and glad you are safe.

Liz Flaherty
Jun 13, 2008

Oh, man.

Thank you.

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