SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

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
    Tags:

Within an hour, the group reaches its first snow at around 5,600 feet. "We'll break here, guys," says Art Rausch. Salau steps into the snow and tips over. The climbing boot is just too clunky. After Salau gets himself upright and seated on his pack, Rausch kneels and removes the boot. "Let's try something different," he says, stripping the sock away to reveal a tan plastic foot that looks–right down to its sculpted toes–like it was filched from a department store mannequin. This "foot shell" slips over the actual weight-bearing base of the prosthetic to provide an anatomical fit inside a boot or shoe. The image of Ed eating a candy bar with one bare foot plonked in the snow makes the other climbers giggle. "Maybe the crampon," says Rausch, unrigging a pair from Salau's pack. Salau detaches his prosthetic at the knee and hands it to Rausch, who straps the crampon to the foot. He has to modify the perforated adjustment plate, and Ed gives a campy wince as Rausch uses a pair of multitool pliers to crimp the cold steel around the flesh-toned heel. Salau reattaches the leg and stands to check the balance: better. It's a distinctive look: one orange climbing boot and one nude-footed Franken-sandal. There are snow crystals on his toenails.

The break ends. The men shoulder their packs, taking a moment to squint across the snowfield and up the Nisqually Glacier all the way to the summit, brown and white against the blue sky. They are mountain climbers. Ed leads the way back to the trail, pausing a moment to let pass a pair of chubby first-graders in flip-flops. There is a ways to go.

A point of semantics: First Lieutenant Ed Salau did not lose his leg. Tough to lose your leg, he will point out, when it is strapped across your sternum, just six inches below your chin. Standard military procedure. The leg was apocalyptically detached, but it was not lost. That would come later, when the docs determined the damage was irreversible. From the day he got his orders for Iraq, he knew he might be killed or wounded. "I had accepted that," he says. "But I was a runner. I trained hard, and I ran for fun. And I do remember thinking, 'As long as nothing happens to my legs…'"

He was leading the platoon home from a patrol. It was getting dark. He was on lookout, standing in the turret of a Bradley fighting vehicle. "Head on a swivel," he says. "Look left, look right, look…there he is." The first grenade was already on its way. It slammed into the vehicle, shattering the armor plating. The second grenade hit in the same spot, penetrating the vehicle, taking off Salau's leg and that of his gunner. First chance, he stuck his hands down his pants to make sure he had his gonads. "You're good, sir," said the medic attending him. Still bleeding, and he was already learning to recalibrate the standard for positive developments.

He's up there now, on point, humping along. Viewed from the rear, the backpacks ride high in a neat stair-stepped file, but every time Ed swings that leg through, his pack wags off-kilter like a shoulder-mounted metronome. Tick by tock, the cumulative lateral movement ratchets up his workload. The trail has turned gravelly and uneven. He's sweating. A breeze crosses the snow and cools his face. Rausch has had him redistribute a few items from his pack among the other climbers. His crampon grates in the shale. He is fighting for every foot of territory.

For his part, Scott Smiley is going pretty much unnoticed. Just stepping quietly along, tap-tapping his poles, sometimes using them like curb feelers to find larger stones beside the trail. Clark and Fawley cue him now and then, and in steeper rock jumbles he reaches ahead with his hands and sorts things out that way. He can feel the sun and then the breeze, hot and cool, and sometimes he smells the scent of fir trees. The other climbers feed him scenes now and then, describing how the treeline has given way to rocks and snow, how the clouds are skiffing past the peak, how his progress is being surveilled by a distant marmot. Off and on he has heard the sound of water, and now he hears it grow more insistent. It is time to cross Pebble Creek.



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -

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.

sayah peze
May 19, 2011

Utah's premier [url=http://www.christmaslights-utah.com]christmas lights[/url] installation company. Holiday lighting installation you can count on in Salt lake, Provo and Park City.

sayah peze
May 19, 2011

Utah's premier <a href="http://www.christmaslights-utah.com">christmas lights</a> installation company. Holiday lighting installation you can count on in Salt lake, Provo and Park City.

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.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Rocky Mountains
TR: Southern Gore Range
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: Lamebeaver
Trailhead Register
The Death of backpacking? (Essay)
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: GoBlueHiker

Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions