On May 19, Charles Linville became the first combat-wounded amputee to summit Mount Everest. Six days later, Chad Jukes became the second.
The men have taken on climbing as a way to recover from their own war wounds and offer hope to others. Linville was trekking to benefit the Los Angeles-based veterans’ group The Heroes Project, while Jukes went with another veterans non-profit, U.S. Expeditions and Explorations, or USX. At least five people have died so far this year on the treacherous Everest climb.
Both teams took on the less traveled and more technically challenging northern route. “Seeing Mount Everest from the north, it’s so much more imposing,” Jukes said at the outset of the climb. “It was pretty amazing and overwhelming to look up at the peak and think wow, I’m going there.”
He hoped the climb raised awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he and many other veterans have suffered.
Linville was serving as a Marine staff sergeant defusing bombs in Afghanistan when he got hit by an explosion in 2011, just months after the birth of his second daughter. The blast took his right ring finger and ultimately, after multiple surgeries to save it, his right leg below the knee.
“You go from being a big strong Marine man protecting your country to a hospital bed,” he said in an interview with Jay Mohr earlier this year. “There's a lot taken away from you ... I was depressed, I hated life, I was in pain, and I couldn't have told you if I was going to make it six months from now.”
Yet in 2014, less than a year after his foot was amputated, Linville made his first attempt to scale the world’s highest peak.
That attempt ended after an avalanche that killed 16 people. A second attempt the following year was cut short as well, when devastating earthquake struck Nepal.
The 30-year-old says that his climbing expeditions—he has now scaled the iconic Seven Summits—began to change when he thought about the thousands of veterans going through the same struggles he was.
“The mountain was no longer just about me when I realized that,” he said to Mohr. “It was about everybody that needs a wake-up. If I can use my body to shine a light on what people with similar injuries are capable of, then I will claw my way up to the top of that mountain just to prove it was possible.”
Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz, who was with Linville at the 29,029-foot peak last week, said during the Mohr interview that the danger involved in the group’s climbs is part of the healing for the veterans who take them on: “You've got to put them back into that battlefield again.”
Jukes lost his leg in Iraq in 2006, when his vehicle hit an explosive device. The 32-year-old retired Army staff sergeant said before the climb: “I want to show people that yes, I have one leg; yes, I have a brain injury; yes, I have post-traumatic stress syndrome; but no, I'm not weak and I'm stronger than you think. I can climb this mountain, and I can conquer this syndrome too."