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Navy SEAL veteran without legs climbs mountain in Austria

Navy SEAL vet without legs climbs mountain
Navy SEAL veteran and Paralympian without legs climbs mountain 05:30

This week, 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley and his team traveled to Austria to witness the healing power of mountain climbing.

The Mountain Seed Foundation, founded by Marine veteran Nathan Schmidt, takes widows of the Ukrainian war and their children to new heights through mountaineering, teaching them skills on the ropes that will also give them strength, courage and resilience.

The program also provides group therapy to Ukrainian widows with a clinical psychologist, helping them process the loss of their husbands and revealing the inner strength they'll need to build a future for them and their children. 

Dan Cnossen, a Navy SEAL veteran and Paralympian who lost his legs to an improvised explosive device, or IED, during a nighttime mission with his platoon in Afghanistan, was one of many guides and volunteers with the program. This would be the first time Cnossen had climbed, or even attempted to climb, since losing his legs in 2009.

Nathan Schmidt attended the U.S. Naval Academy with Cnossen. He said he was grateful to have his old friend with him and eager to see what he could do on the ropes. 

"Dan's a man that I would put no limits on," Schmidt said. "And I can't wait to climb with him. I want to be there with him."

Pelley and the 60 Minutes team were with Cnossen when he tested the ropes. He rappelled down a rock wall, with Schmidt on belay, and hung upside down, to see if the harness would hold him given his different center of gravity. Schmidt and Cnossen were happy to see the experiment had worked. 

But the ultimate test for Dan Cnossen and the Ukrainian group was a steep ascent to the summit of Mount Kitzsteinhorn, at 10,508 feet above sea level. 

Using specially designed prosthetics that he uses for surfing, called sockets, fixed anchors and cables leading up the mountain, Cnossen made a slow but steady ascent. Cnossen said it wasn't easy; his arms did a lot of the work. 

"I was sinking in the snow," Cnossen explained. "And it was tough. But I've done harder things, to be honest, and been through harder things."

After a steep climb, Cnossen and the Ukrainian group made it to the summit of Mount Kitzsteinhorn. Waiting for Cnossen at the top was his old friend Schmidt, and the two embraced when he reached the summit. 

Pelley asked Cnossen what it meant to share that moment with the group of Ukrainian children. 

"It's really touching," Cnossen said. "It's really meaningful to give them hope that you can push through challenges, and you can find yourself on the other side a stronger person."

The video above was produced and edited by Will Croxton.

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