Her parents will tell you that Elyse Ping Medvigy was a delightful baby but a tough one to keep in a crib.
“She’s always been a climber,” said her dad, Gary Medvigy. The Sonoma County judge and U.S. Army Reserve major general likes to relive the rigorous hike up Yosemite’s Half Dome that he took with his nimble daughter when she was 8.
Today, the 26-year-old Ping Medvigy, a 2007 graduate of Sebastopol’s Analy High and 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, trains to ascend Mount Everest. If she and the team of four succeed, the expedition planned for spring of 2016 will achieve several firsts.
It would be the first-ever cresting of the Earth’s tallest mountain by active-duty soldiers and the first by a combat amputee.
On the ascent team is retired Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes, who wears a prosthesis since he lost his right leg below the knee to a roadside bomb in northern Iraq nine years ago.
“He’s a very experienced climber,” said Ping Medvigy, an Army first lieutenant currently assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado. “He’s in phenomenal shape; he has no trouble keeping up.”
Also on the team are army officers and West Point graduates Harold Earls and Matt Hickey. Journalist Sebastian Junger, author of “The Perfect Storm” and director of the acclaimed combat documentaries “Restrepo” and “Korengal,” will chronicle the climb on film.
Ping Medvigy, who grew up in Sebastopol, views the adventure as an opportunity to move her climbing to the next level, to improve awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and raise money for wounded and potentially suicidal veterans.
The documentary by Junger is likely to focus much on Jukes, who also suffered brain damage in the blast near Tikrit and has struggled with PTSD.
“He wants to prove he’s overcoming it,” said Ping Medvigy, who met Jukes and fellow climbers Earls and Hickey for the first time when they trained on Mount Rainier in August. She left Washington state with a sense that all three men are climbers she can rely on.
“When you’re roped up, your life is literally in your teammates’ hands,” she said.
Her own record includes ascents of Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Russian’s Mount Elbrus, at 18,510 feet the tallest mountain in Europe. Left to her own devices, she would be setting her sights next on the Himalayas’ 26,906-foot Cho Oyu.
“Everest wasn’t my first choice, I’ll be honest,” she said. “It’s very commercialized, it’s very expensive.”
But when she heard about the planned ascent by Army officers and veteran Jukes, she contacted leader Earls to ask if there was anything she could do to help. They spoke about her climbing experience and Earls invited her to join the team.
“This is the only opportunity I’ll get in a while to climb the Himalayas,” she said.
While the Army is supportive of the attempt, it is not sponsoring or underwriting it. The climb is being organized by the nonprofit U.S. Expeditions and Explorations, or USX.
Earls and Hickey founded USX to create “audacious, challenging and groundbreaking expeditions” for veterans and active military personnel, and to involve vets in research that could improve their lives and those of others.
USX has created a crowdfunding appeal at classy.org/events/2016-usx-veteran-everest-expedition/e57295. It seeks to raise more than $107,000 for the Everest climb and vows to donate any surplus funds to efforts to aid wounded vets and protect them from suicide.