Skies to conquer: Langley Airman scales Mount Everest

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Brooke Betit
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
In the early hours of May 19, U.S. Air Force Capt. Kyle "Husky" Martin battled cutting winds gusting at 100 mph as he fought to summit the highest point on earth. After nine hours of technical climbing, he and the rest of the U.S. Air Force 7 Summits team stood atop 29,029 feet of rock and ice.

Martin, an F-16 pilot currently flying T-38s, and division chief for the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB, Va., is no stranger to heights, but admitted the climb was different from sitting in a cockpit.

"As a pilot, I've been at 30,000 feet before. But in the airplane, you're surrounded by electronics, harnessed in and the temperature is a nice 70 degrees," he said. "Climbing Everest, I was clinging to a little ridge 29,000 feet in the air, and nothing was keeping me on that rock but my boots and a rope."

Over the course of seven years, the U.S. Air Force 7 Summits team climbed the tallest peak on each of the seven continents: Mount Elbrus in Europe, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount McKinley in North America, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, Mount Kosciuszko, Australia, and Mount Everest in Asia. The team's mission: to spread patriotism, pride in the military and awareness for military charities. They are the first American military climbing team to summit Mount Everest.

At 5:20 a.m. that morning, Martin, along with teammates U.S. Air Force Maj. Rob Marshall, Capt. Andrew Ackles and Capt. Marshal Klitzke, unfurled the U.S. Air Force flag in negative 20 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

"There wasn't a cloud in sight. As we took out the flag, it was really quiet," Martin said. "The chief of staff, General Welsh, had just wished us good luck on our blog and 12,000 people were following us on the GPS tracker. The magnitude of what we were doing hit me then. We were putting that flag up for them, for the Airmen and veterans."

Martin also brought a personal token that he carried to the top of the mountain.

"It's a Buddhist tradition to bring something sacred with you to the top. Prayer flags and other items that people have brought up over the years are scattered across the top of the summit," he said. "I carried a picture of my family."

Having reached the summit, he let go of the picture and watched it flutter through the wind, looking back down at the 90 degree drop he would soon have to descend.

"The descent down is almost as perilous. From the summit, it looked like you could see the curvature of the earth," he said.

Not all of the team was able to make it to the top. Both U.S. Air Force Capt. Colin Merrin, a GPS satellite operations mission commander, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, reserve pararescueman, were forced to turn around.

Fickle weather conditions made safety paramount when attempting the last leg of the trek. The group relied on each other to safely complete the climb.

"There were days when you're hurt and tired and if it wasn't for the team, you might not have had the strength to keep going," Martin said.

Martin also stressed the significance his Air Force training played in preparing him for the climb to the top.

"I took advantage of the skills taught to me during pilot survival training and utilized self-aid buddy care in taking care of the bumps and bruises I got during the climb," he said. "You have to have a mental toughness to be focused on your climb."

Martin recalled that at a critical point, his team reached out to fellow Airmen to support their mission.

"One of our guys knew someone over at Barksdale's weather squadron, so I called them at one in the morning," he said. "I explained that we're at the base of Mount Everest's summit and we're trying to ascend to the top, and I asked what the weather is going to be like. Of course, we had to reassure them that it wasn't a prank call first."

He and the team relied on both the 26th Operation Weather Squadron located at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and 17th Operation Weather Squadron at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to provide accurate information on wind speed and temperatures for the final push up the summit.

"The weather can change quickly so you have a brief window to make a climb under ideal conditions," Martin said. "The weather guys were spot on."

While Martin was proud of reaching the highest summit on earth successfully, after the team safely returned to base camp, he was eager to get back home.

"I was very excited to get back to my family. The support from the 1st Fighter Wing was great while I was gone," he said. "A lot of people lose the opportunity to summit because their personal lives fall apart back home. The [1st FW] really supported my family throughout the entire journey."

Martin has resumed his duties at Langley and is re-adjusting to altitude climbing in an aircraft, rather than on a mountain.

"I am flying's not quite like riding a bike," he laughed.

Martin said he will continue to enjoy mountaineering, a passion dating to his years as a cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy. He plans on continuing climbing with his wife and daughter, but will always look back on pictures of the Mount Everest climb with pride.

"I will always treasure the memory of tackling the highest point on earth," he said. "It was an honor to be a part of a team dedicating their climb to fallen Airmen."