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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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Reaching into the pack again, he pulls out a hunk of yellow construction paper. It's folded into a homemade card–the first one he received after his wounding. It came from a girl named Elizabeth. He carries it everywhere, and it's creased some, but the bright red "thank you" splashed across the front remains bold. A Valentine-style heart is centered beneath the salutation and flanked by two smiling faces. Inside is drawn what appears to be a smoking pistol and the following inscription: To soldier's for fiting are cuntrey. Then another heart. And beneath that, another note: Hope you fell beteter! "Fell better," he says. He loves that.

After lunch, Art Rausch Turns into a drill sergeant, marching everyone up and down the slopes to practice rope work and rehearse self-arrest. Over and over, he gives the command to fall, and every time, the climbers call out "FALLING!" so that the other members of the rope team have time to brace. Any falling climber relies on his partners, but for Smiley this will be especially critical. He holds himself humped over his axe while Rausch makes the rounds, yanking hips up and pushing shoulders down, making the same rough adjustments as a football coach teaching the proper blocking stance. Salau is flopping to the snow right along with everyone else. He knows by now that he is going no higher and is in no mood, but he hopes the film Fawley is shooting will advance the program. At one point while he is prone, another climber kicks him in the head. It is understandable, then, that once the training concludes, he takes himself off to be alone.

Some who have lived it say the physical damage of combat is shaken more readily than the psychological. This raises the parallel question of whether such things can be repaired by a walk in the wilderness. Right now, Ed Salau could argue either way.

See him standing there? The Paradise parking lot sits somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,420 feet. Camp Muir is at 10,080. Salau has hiked four miles and 4,660 vertical feet. Divide that by your standard 7-inch stair riser, and he has climbed 7,989 stairs. Should you wish to recreate his experience, it will be instructive to prop a piece of plywood against the garage at a declivitous angle, clamber atop it, tie up one leg, and with the other, execute 7,989 lunges. After the first 5,000 or so, go ahead and drop your 40-pound backpack.

Then see who you pity.



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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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