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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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Apart from the group, the guides are visibly relieved. Fawley says this is the most memorable climb since his first, the one with his father. "These guys…" says Rausch, and then he can't continue. It takes him a while, then he says, "I don't carry anybody up that mountain. But to see them…" He trails off again. "I'm in the Reserves. I got deployed in 2004 to Qatar. I've never been in harm's way. These guys…it just cuts me up. I'd carry…I'd carry everything for them."

The descent to Paradise remains. Fawley and Kittleson will escort Smiley down tonight so he can make his plane, and Salau will descend in the morning. More of the same, in reverse. But at this moment, the group vibrates with the shared euphoria of hazard and hardship overcome in a place far removed from civilization and its various complications. Adversity runs a sliding scale–elective nature hikes at the low end, Ed's leg and Scotty's eyes at the unthinkable high end–but even a hill climb such as this one can kick irony in the slats and give despair the raspberries.

Mt. Rainier is a volcano, of course. Ed didn't get there, and Scotty couldn't see it, but the summit is a vast white bowl. A crucible, you could say, from which hope might be forged.

Mt. Rainier was Michael Perry's first mountaineering trip. Based in Wisconsin, he is the author of Truck: A Love Story and Population: 485.



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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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