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Four Combat-Wounded Veterans Set Out to Defy "The High One"

WASHINGTON - Operation Denali shifted into high gear today, June 1, 2009, as the team of four combat-wounded veterans, two peer mentors and a guide set out to conquer Mount McKinley, also known simply as Denali, and "The High One."

Denali is a cantankerous slab of granite situated in Alaska's Denali National Park. It's the highest peak in North America with a summit soaring 20,320 feet above sea level. With temperatures reaching minus 75 degrees F, or minus 118 degrees F when the wind is whipping, the mountain guarantees those who attempt to reach its peak a good challenge.

The team, consisting of Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman, retired Marine Capt. Jonathan Kuniholm, and Army Spc. David Shebib, has been training at Alaska Mountain School since completing a climb last June.

The veterans, plus their peer mentors, Gayle E. Hoffmeister, Bob Haine and lead guide Kirby Senden, will head for base camp at 8,650 feet today.

After a pause to acclimate to the elevation and review safety procedures, it's onward and upward for the group. Not only will they face all the usual difficulties the mountain presents, each will tackle their individual challenges resulting from their own disabilities.

Operation Denali is slated to conclude on June 22. As of May 28, there were 484 climbers on the mountain. Nearly 180 climbers already have completed their scheduled climbs this year, and of those 78, or 44 percent have reached the summit, according to the National Park Service.