Rohnert Park (CA): On December 17, 2006, Staff Sergeant Chad Jukes (32) was a gun truck commander on a convoy in northern Iraq when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion severely damaged Chad’s right foot, ultimately forcing him to make a life-changing decision: amputate his lower right leg below the knee. Beyond the physical loss which he endured as an amputee—with years of recovery and lifestyle adjustments—Chad also had to work through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that so many veterans suffer from during, and years after, wartime combat missions.
Chad overcame his disabilities but he also rekindled his passion for climbing through Paradox Sports, a non-profit organization which helps people with physical disabilities break through barriers and experience the outdoors. He became a committed rock and ice climber and over the years evolved into a serious mountaineer.
Jukes on the summit of Mt. Everest (May 24, 2016) – Photo: © Dave Ohlson:
On May 24, Chad became one of the first-ever combat wounded veterans – as an amputee – to summit Mt. Everest. He was part of the USX Expedition climbing team, which included two other active duty officers; Capitan Elyse Ping Medvigy and Second Lieutenant Harold Earls. The team was on a mission to raise awareness for PTSD and veterans issues by climbing the world’s highest peak. Dave Ohlson, an experienced Himalayan climber and award-winning documentary filmmaker, also joined the USX team to document their experience and help tell their important story.
Jukes on Mt. Everest summit with Mt. Makalu behind – Photo: © Dave Ohlson
“Summiting Mt. Everest was amazing. Knowing that our climb was a step toward raising awareness for disabled veterans, PTSD and veteran suicide, made it that much more important,” explains Chad in an interview from his home in Ouray, Colorado, where he’s been honing his ice climbing and mountaineering skills for the past several years.
For Chad, who has been personally affected by PTSD from his combat experiences in Iraq, the often misunderstood disorder haunted him during the expedition with tragic news stateside: “While I was climbing on Everest, another veteran—a good friend of mine—took his own life as a result of his own struggle with PTSD and the horrors of war.”
Jukes moving from Camp 2 to Camp 3 on Everest’s North Ridge – Photo: © Dave Ohlson
Chad and his climbing partner, Dave Ohlson, reached Everest’s summit together on the morning of May 24, but had a racy descent from the mountain’s long and treacherous North Ridge, finally reaching their high camp at around 10pm in the dark. Chad unpacks his harrowing descent:
“While we were descending from the summit of Everest I realized that my oxygen tube had been severed. Somewhere around 8600 meters (approximately 28,200 ft.), my supplemental oxygen ran out. I was extremely hypoxic and struggled to reach Camp 3 (8300m). It was just the two of us up there in the tent alone in the dark – and really exposed. The next day, Dave and I descended from Camp 3 through jet stream winds and wet snow. We were exhausted and the wind was blasting us with lethal gusts (60-70 mph). The situation was serious and we just had to hold on. I really felt like I was on the edge.”
Despite their treacherous descent, the duo made it down to the relative safety of Camp 1 on the North Col. But the long and frigid descent came with a cost: Chad contracted mild frostbite on several fingertips which he continues to treat from his home in Ouray. Fortunately, Chad will not lose any fingertips to the frostbite, but his ordeal descending Everest made him question his decision-making in the mountains.
“I’ve questioned the wisdom of climbing 8000 meter peaks, but as I’ve been able to take some time and think about what I went through, I’ve been able to distill some important lessons from the ordeal in order to understand how I can climb smarter and safer in the future,” he explains.
Chad also adds – “I am very pleased that our ascent has raised awareness for the issues of PTSD and soldier suicide. I look forward to spending the coming months becoming lobbying for change within the system. It’s one thing to convince the public that there is a problem, but the problem can’t be addressed unless congress allows the VA to hire the doctors needed to address the issue. This is my next Everest.”
Chad Jukes a Marmot Ambassador. He also is represents Blue Water Ropes and Paradox Sports. For more information about USX, please visit www.USX.vet
Marmot sponsored Chad the USX Expedition team with sleeping bags, tents and high-altitude mountaineering clothing, including 8000-meter down suits. www.marmot.com
All photos by Dave Ohlson www.daveohlson.com
About Marmot Mountain, LLC
Marmot is an award-winning, globally distributed brand of high-performance, technical clothing, apparel and equipment. Since 1974, Marmot products have been worn by climbers, skiers, mountaineers and adventurers world-wide. Marmot works with professional mountain guides, world-class athletes and expeditions—pushing the limits of product innovation and technology—pioneering what is possible in the most extreme environments on earth. For more information about Marmot please visit www.marmot.com
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