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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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But right here in the moment, he cannot lie. He is not happy. That is why he has taken himself away from the group to stare off at the foothills of eastern Washington, to watch them go orange as the day fades. He has walked away from the tents a good distance. His back is turned to the campsite. He holds himself ramrod straight between the crutches, and he wishes he were somewhere else.

He feels, he says, like the last kid picked.

Down among the tents, Captain Scott Smiley is trying to rest. He is propped against a backpack, awaiting supper. Smiley is a big man, broad-shouldered, with the reasonable musculature of a pre-steroidal tight end. His catalog-worthy features–bold but proportionate nose, wide cheekbones, and a solid outcropping of jaw–are nicely normalized by a grin just crooked enough and ears just jug enough to cast him as a corn-fed kid. In the fading sunlight, Smiley has yet to remove his sunglasses, and they conceal the most striking feature of all: two luminous blue eyes. Smiley is a decorated soldier whose war experience has received a lot of press coverage, and invariably the photographers focus on those beautiful eyes. The eyes are not real. Smiley wears them as much for us as for himself. When he steps off toward the mountaintop tonight it will be dark, but Smiley has grown used to dark. In 2005, while on patrol in Mosul, Iraq, Smiley spotted a car that squatted low to the ground. The driver was motionless behind the wheel. Suspecting the car was loaded with explosives, Smiley considered shooting him, but nothing is certain, so he hollered and fired warning shots. "The driver slowly raised both hands," says Smiley, "and then the car just disappeared." Shrapnel drove into Smiley's head. One eye was gone, and the other was blinded. The right side of his body was paralyzed. The medics who took him in figured he wouldn't make it. He was still in his hospital bed when a social worker suggested his wife should sign the papers necessary to have him discharged. She refused.

Rehabilitation commenced almost immediately. Over time, the paralysis receded. He learned to walk again. He carried a piece of his skull around in his abdomen while his brain mended, only to see the bone discarded and the gap filled with acrylic. He hoped his right eye might be repaired, but it didn't happen. He set about learning Braille and how to walk with a white stick.



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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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