When Charlie Linville made his successful ascent to the top of Mount Everest in May, he carried what most climbers do — supplemental oxygen, extra goggles, extra layers and a few personal mementos, including American and Marine Corps flags and prints of his two daughters’ bare feet. Once on the summit, he placed the prints on the ground between his own feet and snapped a photo.
“It’s so they can say they’ve also stood atop the tallest mountain in the world,” he said.
But he also carried “extra amputee stuff,” which is to say an extra leg, and extra hand warmers for his right hand, which is missing two fingers.
In 2011, deployed with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, Charlie stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device). He lost the fingers and eventually the lower section of his right leg because of his injuries.
Two previous attempts to climb Everest, in 2014 and 2015, ended because of an avalanche and an earthquake, respectively. But Linville finally reached the 29,029-foot summit this year, on May 19. He is the first war-wounded veteran to do so.
He climbed as part of The Heroes Project, a veterans support organization. The Heroes Project has plans to turn the epic trek into a documentary, and Linville’s eight-person climbing crew included filmmakers along with sherpas.
The public will have the chance to meet Linville and hear more about his climb at Saturday’s “Summit Celebration.”
“Anyone in the community who has been following the climbs and sharing the last three years with us is welcome,” said Mandi Linville, Charlie’s wife.
“The event is about them as well as Charlie. They helped make the climb happen with their donations and their support.”
NOT ‘HOUSE ARREST’
Charlie Linville said his motivation for the climb was to test his own physical and mental mettle. But he also sought to motivate other men and women who have faced physical limitations and who might be struggling to come to terms with their injuries as he once did — whether that’s in the hospital or in self-imposed seclusion at home.
“I want them to know that an injury isn’t house arrest,” Linville said. “Maybe someone will hear my story and that might help them take that first step.”
Such limitations have more to do with a lack of desire than a lack of capability, he said. Though he doesn’t minimize the physical training that must precede an Everest climb, he believes the climb is as mental as it is physical.
“Everest is this harsh environment. And you’re straining. It’s not that the body can’t handle it. It’s that the brain is telling you to go home,” he said.
He kept those voices at bay, and his party made the summit. That moment came, he said, with both exhilaration and the realization that he’d reached only the halfway mark of the journey and still needed to get back down the mountain safely. After spending no more than 25 minutes on the summit, his group headed back down to base camp, some 8,000 feet below. At that point, he said, his right leg hurt so badly that he had to stay in his tent for two days to recover. His other injury, a patch of frostbite, or “Everest kiss,” on his cheek, was minimal.
The landscape and the scale of the journey, Linville said, were surreal. The film crew used a camera drone to capture images of the odd landscape.
“We were walking in this rock channel. All of a sudden you look up and there’s this strange landscape on each side of you,” he said. “There were huge ice penitentes (thin, vertical blades of hardened snow and ice that form at high altitudes). Deep-blue ice, rock and moraine (a mass or ridge of rocks and sediment deposited by a glacier). It’s really indescribable unless you’ve been there.”
The end of the trip, the actual departure from the mountain, was strangely low-key, he said.
“The van comes to camp to pick you up, and it’s over,” Linville said. “You take your last view of the summit. It seems so far away. I thought, ‘I was just there. And I’m never going back.’”
NORMALCY, WHATEVER THAT MEANS
Though Charlie was the one who made the Everest trek, the entire Linville family has lived the story for years. Mandi, a special education teacher in the West Ada School District, said even her students were intrigued by the story. They followed his journey and chose to read a novel about Everest as part of their class work.
Now, following this great success after so many trials, “It’s really nice to know we don’t have to put our lives on hold,” Mandi Linville said. “For three years, you stop everything. You say, ‘OK, you’re going to Everest.’ ”
The family will continue to support Linville, though, “whatever he wants to do next,” said Mandi. He talks, only half-jokingly, about space travel.
For now, his wife said, “He wants to share his experiences and hopefully reach someone who’s in the place he used to be in.”
So what was it like to reach the summit and stand on the “top of the world”?
“I was happy to be alive, and that the mountain didn’t turn us away,” Linville said. “I was happy to be there with my team. I know what I’m capable of. The confidence that moment will give me is immeasurable.”
Meet Charlie Linville
The Summit Celebration is planned for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at The Harbor Grill and Events Center, 3000 N. Lakeharbor Lane in Boise.