The Real Mountain Man
By Captain Mike Dullege
Over the past five months I have been walking up and down a hill every day to meet my ANA counterpart. This hill is a baby-hill really, like many found in or around Edmonton. It’s not really big but, as always in the Corps, it’d be better if I were driving up it. At the top of this hill is the Regional Military Training Centre - Capital or RMTC-C. As much as I make out of this hill it is really nothing more than a mole-hill that sits in the shadow of towering mountains. Like really, really big ones. Tagging along with members of the Third Battalion, British Forces and Romanians, I recently hiked up one of these mountains.
To give some perspective it’s about a thousand meters of vertical gain and about a six-plus km walk to the top. All along the route are relics from the Soviet occupation. Reminders of a different time for Afghanistan. Rusted out T72s, T55s and burned-out BMPs mark the route from the base until the halfway point. The first tank, affectionately known as “quitter tank”, represents the point that most people decide they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and turn around. Either that or they wait there as their friends continue on. It’s interesting that most of the vehicles are still covering their arcs, demonstrating true dedication to all-around security seldom seen.
The mountain itself is made up of jagged and unforgiving rocks that are hard on the knees and ankles. The air gets thinner by the step and breathing becomes pretty hard. Two thirds of the way up the mountain the gut check really sets in. It would be extremely easy to turn around, justifying quitting with the fact that the walk back would be a tough go as well. Most quit at the first tank, many others quit here. This is a point where there is a distinct jut of rocks and a little bricked-in trench where Russian tankers slept while not on overwatch. The history of this place pretty much smacks you in the face.
The British soldiers, used to training in the mountains, had a great setup which included the leader of the pack, observers and a rear-man who kept me company for almost the entire trip. Every time I sat down for more than a few minutes he reminded me that we were being caught up to by a bunch of civilian contractors. Egging me on to continue, this British Major was quite effective at engaging my ego and I pushed forward against the screams of my muscles and joints. Following a couple of my really good friends from the Third Battalion, Captains Dave Peabody and Cory Foley, made it easier to keep going as well.
Reaching the top of the mountain was outstanding, a real life-changing event. The view was spectacular, beyond words. Suddenly I had all the energy in the world and was bouncing from rock to rock taking pictures and telling army stories with the various nations on the summit.
After half an hour at the top is was time to start the trip back down. It took two and a half hours to get up and an hour and forty five minutes to get back down. Because of the pain in my feet, quads and knees it became easier to lightly jog when I could. Meeting us at Quitter Tank were several Afghan children asking for food or whatever else we had on-hand. That was a kick in the ego for sure. The Afghan children were running up and down the mountain with ease as we were huffing and puffing our way back down.
I got back to the shacks, peeled my boots off and took a well-deserved shower knowing that I had checked something huge off my list: completing “The Real Mountain Man”.