Andy Politz, an experienced mountain climber from Columbus, tumbled 800 feet down Mount Washington in an avalanche with 11 others last week — and told a crowd that included Ohio State students, some of whom climb the mountain every year, about it Thursday night.
The Jan. 16 climb was an initiative of Ascents of Honor, a group started by Politz that aims to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, increase awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and encourage civilians to help returning military veterans, according to its website.
“Adventure will help returning combat vets transition to be civilians again … We’re not doing therapy, just making connections through adventure with the broader community,” Politz said at an event at Hitchcock Hall Thursday.
Intertwined with Politz’s story of the avalanche was that of Keith Zeier, friend and Marine veteran on the climb who previously suffered war injuries in Iraq that lead to the amputation of his left leg.
Zeier was partly Politz’s inspiration for starting Ascent of Honor.
“Veterans have too much to contribute to let them dissolve away like we did with Vietnam vets. We’re going to lose big if we don’t let them contribute to society,” Politz said.
During the Mount Washington — located in New Hampshire — climb, Politz was leading on a rope connected to his son and Zeier.
At one point, Politz hung back to help Zeier adjust his prosthetic leg, and a climber on another rope took the lead.
Shortly after, the 3,000-foot avalanche began. Politz said he mentally braced himself for it.
“I was just thinking, ‘I can’t be bothered with how much it’s going to hurt,’” Politz said. “‘I have to come out conscious, I have to breathe air.’”
While the climb claimed no lives, it did cause several hospitalizing injuries, including a broken leg on Politz and shoulder injury for Zeier, something Politz said he got criticism for later.
“I got a lot of hate mail out of this because I injured a vet, and that’s a good thing because that means America cares,” Politz said.
With 40 years of experience, including expeditions hiking the likes of Mount Everest under his belt, Politz told students the biggest mistake he made during the recent trip was not stopping to reassess the climbing conditions sooner.
“I can’t tell you how horrible it is to make such devastating mistakes. I was the leader. There were 11 (other) people and everyone overlooked things … Wisdom of the group. Use that,” Politz said.
He said the avalanche, though, will not deter him from going on future climbing trips with Zeier and other veterans.
Politz was brought to OSU through a combined effort of local climbing group Columbus Climbing Cooperative and the Mountaineers at OSU Club.
Donations from the free admission event, which suggested a $5 to $8 donation from attendees, were split evenly between Columbus Climbing Cooperative and SOWF, said Bobby Goodfellow, who, as part of the Columbus Climbing Cooperative, helped plan the event.
SOWF provides support to military troops serving in the U.S. Special Operations Command, according to its website.
The event also included a raffle with donations from local mountaineering businesses, from chalk bags to climbing gym passes.
The event cost $20 for printing posters for advertisements, Goodfellow said. The Mountaineers at OSU Club reserved the event space in Hitchcock Hall.
Michael Lemon, president of OSU Mountaineers, said he was excited to sponsor the event.
“We think it’s a really cool thing Andy’s doing, raising money for his cause (SOWF). Also it’s really relevant to what we do as a club. He’s talking about mountaineering, specifically his experience on Mount Washington, and that’s a mountain we climb every year,” Lemon said.
Some students who attended Thursday’s event were moved by the story.
“I learned a lot, hearing the way Andy spoke with such a humble attitude about what he went through and the past he had with Keith,” said Kelly Messer, a second-year in environmental engineering. “Some days I go through the day thinking I can’t make it because I didn’t get enough sleep. His story inspires me to have the power to persevere.”
Andrew Jylkka, a fifth-year in environmental science, found Politz very relatable.
“A negative experience is tough, and he was real and raw and made you understand that,” Jylkka said.
Jylkka said Politz’s story inspired him to continue pursuing his own future plans.
“It made me want to proceed with my capstone project dealing with wilderness therapy for vets and urban students,” Jylkka said. “There are people we connect with through activities, and I want to make a career out of that.”
Politz ended his story with a call for action for students to reach out to veterans.
“It’s the government’s job to take care of these guys, but the government can’t always do it. It’s the community,” he said. “Get together with someone though an activity. If it’s an adventure, they’re all looking for it.”
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