15 Air Force Related Climbers on Granite in USAFsummits 50 Highpoint Challenge

15 members and civilians from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base attempted Granite Peak on August 4-6 as the part of the USAF Summits 50 Highpoint Challenge.

The Malmstrom Air Force base press release stated:

Fifteen Airmen and civilians participated in the United States Air Force 50 Summits Challenge Aug. 4 – 6 at Granite Peak, Montana.

Four Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing participated in the event.

The event focused on challenging Airmen to carry the Air Force flag to the peak of the highest mountain in all fifty states.

According to www.usaf50summits.com, the event’s goals are to get outside, have fun and broaden personal boundaries by encouraging individuals to expand their physical, mental, social and spiritual resiliency.

For Lt. Col. Brian Holbein, 341st MW command post chief, participating in the challenge had been a long-awaited experience for him.

“One of my close friends was the squadron commander of one of the 7 Summits Challenge teams,” said Holbein. The 7 Summits Challenge was the original event, until it was opened up to all 50 states.

“I was immediately fascinated,” Holbein continued. “When they announced the 50 Summits Challenge, I was interested. I thought it was more realistic for me to have the time and resources to participate in it and to possibly lead a team (if I wouldn’t have to travel to a different state).”

According to Holbein, he had to bide his time until he could participate in the event. It wasn’t until after he made a permanent change of station to Malmstrom from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, that Holbein signed up for the journey.

“I quickly learned that (Granite Peak) was beyond my current experience and capability to lead a team as it is one of the most difficult (continental U.S. summits) to reach,” said Holbein. “However, I thought that I might be able to join a team with others who were more experienced.”

After the date was set to hike the peak, Holbein contacted Chief Master Sgt. Dean Werner, the team leader for Granite Peak to sign up.

Granite Peak is the highest mountain in the state, reaching an elevation of 12,799 feet, located in southern Montana.

“It’s a 14-mile hike to the top of the mountain,” said Capt. Kiefer Caplan, 10th Missile Squadron deputy combat crew commander and 50 Summits Montana team member. “Getting to the top was definitely the hardest part.”

Granite Peak is part of the Beartooth Range of the Northern Rocky Mountains, and is considered to be one of the most difficult mountains to summit in the U.S., according to www.summitpost.org.

“I initially had some concerns about my experience and comfort level with the more technical rock and mountain climbing portions,” said Holbein.

Holbein began to train in preparation for the feat of Granite Peak.

He accomplished smaller summits at Glacier National Park and Big Baldy Mountain in the Little Belt Mountains. Both summits are elevated at approximately 10,000 feet or less, a vast difference from Granite Peak.

However, Holbein said the smaller peaks gave him the opportunity to learn and train on hiking techniques and navigating situations that he wasn’t originally prepared for as a beginner, such as scrambling, scree, talus fields, weather risk mitigation and a grizzly bear encounter.

Feeling more confident in his abilities to tackle Granite Peak, Holbein and his team began the trek Aug. 4.

The team continued up the mountain until they reached an elevation of 12,300 feet, at which point Holbein said several members of the team had met their match, himself included.

“At about 12,300 feet of elevation, my confidence and experience were tested and pushed beyond my comfort level,” said Holbein. “I was able to complete some of the more difficult maneuvers, but as the increasing difficulty became more apparent I began to re-assess my personal risk tolerance level and mitigation tools.

“I determined that it might be possible for me to make it to the summit, but only at the expense of transferring a significant portion of my personal risk to the other members of our team and that was not something I was willing to do,” he continued.

It was then that Holbein and several members of the team turned around to make their way back down the mountain, including the other three Airmen from Malmstrom; Caplan and 1st Lts. Jeremy Taylor and Patrick Sutton-Buscavage.

“I really enjoyed being out there, hiking the Beartooth Mountains,” said Caplan. “The best piece of advice I can give to someone hiking Granite Peak for the first time is to have your wits about you, be in good shape and don’t give up.”

More experienced members, however, were able to continue the last 400 feet of the journey and place the Air Force flag as well as the 341st MW flag at the summit of Granite Peak.

Holbein says even though he wasn’t able to summit, he regrets nothing.

“I met some great people and had an amazing experience in the Montana wilderness,” said Holbein. “I saw picturesque views that few people will ever experience and I successfully tested my judgment and decision making skills in applying risk management.”

Holbein plans to be a team leader to hike the highest point in North Dakota in October.

“I want to contribute to this effort of getting Airmen together in the outdoors, to be part of something, and to bring the lessons and experiences I learned from Granite Peak to others,” said Holbein.

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