My old pipeline friend Nick Gibson is joining up with the USAF’s Seven Summits team to summit Mount Everest next spring. As soon as I was able to contain my insane jealousy, I thought I’d better get in touch with him to see what it was all about. My fondest memories of Nick, a former collegiate swimmer at the University of Florida, was remembering how he used to kick the shit out of all of us in the pool. Dude would finish a 4000 meter fin swim and I’d be on like lap ten. Bastard. – BK
Nick, it’s great catching up with you. Start off by telling us how you got into the Pararescue career field:
I ended up in Pararescue on a break from college. My father was a flight surgeon who lectured to the PJ’s in the 60’s. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him I wanted to do something that required extreme training and used my college swimming experience but was about helping people. He told me I should check out the PJs and I brushed it off. Like my old man could know what I wanted to do. Yeah, yeah…maybe he knows a thing or two. The events of 9/11 sealed the deal for me and I enlisted after undergrad and a year and a half of paperwork. I’ve never once regretted it.
Yeah, the old men know the score. What are some of the duty stations you’ve had, and how was your experience there?
My first duty station was Hurlburt Field, Florida. It was a great place to learn solid tactical operations and medicine. I deployed to Iraq and gained valuable mission experience with that time overseas. After two years, I pushed to transition into the Alaska Air National Guard and the 212th Rescue Squadron, where I worked with some of the best people, operators and support personnel, I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with in the military.
The mission in Alaska is unparalleled and the deployment we had was that of legends. I just missed some of the best PJ mission work that was performed by my colleagues. I was honored to have called them my teammates.
I transferred to the 308th Rescue Squadron in Cocoa Beach, Florida, once I began physician assistant school at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I have been nothing but impressed with what I’ve seen and experienced with this unit. PA school has been a smooth transition from the pararescue world and a perfect fit for my skill set as the physician assistant career field intended with it’s origins.
Obviously, as a PJ, you’ve had plenty of rock and ice experience. Did you have any climbing experience before the military?
I had done some climbing, mostly rock, prior to entering the PJ career field. I had always felt a curiosity with the mountains and the open solitude they offer. I had gone to Alaska with the hopes of doing more climbing than I ended up doing. I was traveling often with work due to the necessity of my life circumstances and carrying the hopes of getting into the hills.
While I learned more in Alaska about climbing and rescue than I had ever known before, I left feeling as though I didn’t achieve what I had set out to do there. I want to develop my ice climbing beyond what I had done many years prior. I hope to resolve that one day by going back. I may return to train up for Everest prior to leaving for Nepal.
How did you get involved with the Seven Summits Challenge?
I stumbled across the USAF Seven Summits Challenge about five years ago just prior to leaving for Iraq. They were only on their second or third climb and I had hopes of joining them for some climbs until deployment took precedence. I came close to making the Antarctica climb, but logistics wouldn’t have it.
Everest is the first that actually had the moons aligned. It just seems to be in the cards this time. Rob Marshall and Mark Uberuaga, co-founders of the organization, have done an excellent job of establishing the group and raising large amounts of money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation over the many climbs.
Sounds kickass. What’s the concept of operations?
We are going to be working with International Mountain Guides (IMG) out of Ashford, Washington. The plan is to do a classic style expedition. This will mean that we will each have a sherpa climbing guide assigned to work with us throughout the climb. These Sherpa guides have all summited Everest and, from what I’ve heard from a friend who worked with IMG on Everest, are exceptional people.
The schedule is set for us to fly to Katmandu, Nepal, in late March and spend about ten days trekking to Everest Base Camp. From there, we will take another 10-12 days acclimating before starting our yo-yo climbs to the respective camps to push our bodies to further acclimate and route familiarize.
After approximately three weeks of this progression, we will begin our summit attempt, progressing through the camps for a final summit “day” around the middle of May. This is when the best weather typically presents for summit climbers on Everest. If the mountain allows it, then we hope to be back to Everest Base Camp by the 17th/18th of May and then on to Katmandu on the 22nd of May for a celebratory beverage.
I’ll drink to that. Where can people find out more to follow the progress of the team or make a donation?
The USAF Seven Summits Challenge website has information and will provide blog posts to follow our team’s progress. The site also has opportunities to contribute donations to help fund the climb, as well as 50% going towards the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
USAF Seven Summits Challenge is a 501(c)(19) War Veteran’s Organization (EIN#27-2444923) and your contributions are tax deductible under IRS regulations. The website is usaf7summits.com. I also have my photography website where I sell prints of my photographs to benefit the That Others May Live Foundation. On this site I have an option to donate to my individual expedition costs, as I am a student and must raise my own funding for the trip. That website is nrgphotography.com.
How are you representing the PJ and SOF community in this undertaking?
I’m hoping to represent the PJ community on this pioneering military expedition by showing that the skillset of a PJ truly means that we are capable of going into any situation to bring our military men and women back home. We are doing this in hopes of showing the world what the airmen of the U.S. Air Force can do when they put their hearts and minds into it. Plus, with so many pilots going up the mountain, you should have to have a PJ there doing their job as well.
My personal goals involve the obvious one of standing on the highest summit on the planet, but I also want to raise awareness of the healthcare issues veterans are facing as they return home from these wars. I feel that highlighting physician assistants as their healthcare providers will be critical for the use of mid-level providers to help our military members.
After this expedition, I’d like to help organize an all-PJ or an all-SOF expedition to Mt. Everest for 2014 or 2015. I’ve had many PJ’s expressing interest in Everest and would love to have a group of PJ brothers stand on the world’s summit one day. I also am going to continue to pursue my own goal of the Seven Summits with other airmen. If I am able to summit Everest, why not continue to do the rest for a good cause.
Nick, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to all of us about this awesome trip. I know you guys are going to do great. Don’t forget to send us some pictures of you knocking out some eight counts on the summit, and spray-painting some green feet up there!