Scaling Mount Everest is a daunting prospect for even the most able-bodied climber. So what's it like for a veteran who's lost part of his leg? U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Charlie Linville is about to find out. After months of conditioning, he has set out to climb Everest with Tim Medvetz, founder of the Heroes Project, which helps amputee veterans regain their confidence - one giant mountain at a time.
"It's extreme therapy. It's not for everybody," Medvetz explains. "Where I take these guys, I take them to places where people don't come back. We're not just taking them up to the Hollywood sign, we're not taking them adaptive skiing. I am putting them in harm's way."
60 Minutes profiled the Heroes Project last year and a web-only version of the story appears above. In it, correspondent Lara Logan asks U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Mark Zambon, a double amputee, how it felt to pass healthy, young climbers as he ascended Mount Kilimanjaro. "That was a very powerful moment for me because, you know, that answered it for me. You know, that this injury, like, does not define my life, even in prosthetics with no legs, we are still conquering and accomplishing, and doing amazing things."
Medvetz, a former Hells Angel, never served in the military, but he survived a life-threatening motorcycle crash in 2001 and knows how it feels to be shattered. Mountain climbing helped him escape a downward spiral, give up his pain pills and find himself again. In 2009, he created the Heroes Project to help injured veterans do the same.
In the video above, Medvetz describes climbing Denali, the tallest peak in North America, with retired U.S. Army Sgt. Matt Nyman and seeing another climber plunge to his death. "I looked at him and I'm like, 'Listen, I completely understand if you want to turn around right now and go down, because we haven't even got to the scary stuff, to the technical stuff up top.'" Medvetz recalled. But Nyman was unfazed. "He looked at me and he went, 'F, man that was just a day at the office over in Afghanistan and Iraq.'" They pushed on.
But Everest is an even more ambitious - and dangerous - climb. Medvetz and Linville have attempted to climb it the past two years, but have been prevented by natural disasters, including last year's avalanche that killed nearly two dozen people. With their climb cancelled, they rented Land Rovers in Nepal and helped deliver supplies instead.
This year, they spent months training, working out and sleeping in chambers that simulate the high-altitude, low-oxygen environment they'll encounter on Everest. For Linville, the training meant months away from his family in Idaho. So why do it? Linville says he needs to prove to himself that he can do it, and he hopes his success will inspire other people to overcome their own physical limitations.
"You don't conquer the mountain, you conquer yourself," he says. "It's about the journey --figuring out who you are, what you're made of."
The Heroes Project can fund only one or two climbs per year and Medvetz chooses his climbers and terrain carefully, to minimize harm and maximize impact. "I didn't start this foundation to get anybody killed, no mountain is worth losing another limb," he says. "But I do believe mountaineering is suffering. I have to get them to the point where they don't believe they have any more and then push them some more. And that's what these mountains are for."
To donate to the Heroes Project, visit http://theheroesproject.org/donate/