Steve Baskis, his brother Kevin, Nate Gorham, Tim Hornik, Lonnie Bedwell, Dan Standage and wife Nancy pose for a photo prior to starting the Bataan Death March.

Bataan Death March

Holman Prize

The Holman Prize is a grant of up to $25,000 from the San Francisco Light House for the Blind given to select visually impaired individuals to embark on a grand adventure like James Holman (A visually impaired adventurer that travelled the world in 1800’s).

After losing my eyesight I have done quite a bit of traveling and will continue to do so probably until the day I die. I’m applying for the Holman prize to assist with a specific endeavor, to visit the New 7 Wonders of the World and share the wonders through a blind perspective.

If I am awarded the Holman Prize, I’ll create more than just a blog or video…and it will be more than just stepping up to the 7 wonders. At each wonder I’ll also be doing something a little adventurous that will be unplanned…whether it’s a trek, skiing, cycling or kayaking in the area.

I’m looking to raise awareness. To share the adventure with others, visiting local blind schools/organizations, and government officials to inspire and show others of what is possible.

#HolmanPrize

Script:

Introduction title:
In white text –
Steve Baskis
A Blind Endeavor to Explore the 7 Wonders of the World
A Video Submission for the Holman Prize

[Close up of a Green Eye]

22 Years of sight and in the blink of an eye it was gone.

[The eye blinks and cut to black]

[A photo of Army soldiers are grouped together, Steve is highlighted in the lower right corner]

[A photo of Steve sitting in a military vehicle, zooms into his face, fade to black]

[Steve speaks to the camera]

On May 13, 2008 I lost all of my sight, when an explosive device detonated near our patrol in Baghdad, Iraq.

Life forever changed…

[A photo of an Army Soldier, Victor Cota, holds up pease signs with both hands]

A good friend, a soldier and team leader died next to me on that unfortunate day in May.

[Steve lays in a hospital bed, his arms bandaged, his brother sits by his side reading him a book]

I awoke half a world away from the battlefield, my family at my side life forever changed.

Laying in that hospital bed, staring into darkness. I could not help but think about negative things. Never again will I drive, never again will I stare at the starry night sky, and never again will I see my families faces.
[Steve treks over a snowy mountain trail with a gentleman guiding him with a bell]
[Steve is in a kayak paddling down a river, water splashing over him]
Over the past 9 years I have explored new ways of living. Moving is living

[Photo of Steve cross country skiing]
I’ve skied in different countries
[Steve riding on a tandem]
cycled from one nation to another
[Steve atop of a Mountain in Nepal]
climbed tall peaks and
[Silhouette of Steve in a kayak crossing the water during a sunset]
paddled on our majestic oceans.

[Steve smiling and sticking his tongue out atop of a mountain with three friends/guides behind him]
People quite literally guide me through life. Help me show the world the 7 wonders from a blind perspective.
[Photos of the seven wonders flash across the screen: Chichen Itza, The Colosseum, Great Wall of China, Christ the Redeemer, Taj Mahal, Petra, Machu Picchu]
Text Reads: A Blind Endeavor to Explore the 7 Wonders
Are you curious about this Endeavor?Like this Video and Then Go Visit:
www.SteveBaskis.com
For more information about the Holman Prize and to vote for Steve:
https://www.holmanprize.org/candidates/2017/2/15/steven-would-explore-the-seven-wonders-of-the-world

A 350 foot rock called the Bastille Crack stretches to the sky.

Bastille Crack

In life we all face challenges. I consider my loss of sight a challenge, but trying to earn a degree, find a job or purchase a home are all challenges as well. So why do some people seek out physical challenges, like climbing a rock tower in the middle of the wilderness? For me it is a way to escape and be adventurous. Climbing allows me to use all of my senses and forces me to concentrate on the objective of navigating and summitting an obstacle.

Rock climbing is somewhat frustrating to me, and this is not because of my blindness, but because of nerve and vascular damage in my  left arm. The damage in my left arm has caused a lot of muscle atrophy and fine motor skill problems in my left hand and fingers, making some hand holds virtually impossible. My complaints and frustrations don’t really mean that much though, because I know a number of amputees who climb difficult rock formations all over the world. So what do I do? Give up on rock climbing… Never, I just search for a new way to climb and crack climbing might be my savior. Crack climbing requires the climber to insert his or her hand into the crack and flex, thereby creating friction and a secure hand or foot hold to allow upward movement. So this style of climbing makes my left arm & hand problem less challenging.

Here I am climbing the 350 foot Bastille Crack in Eldorado Springs Canyon near Boulder, Colorado.  Crack climbing is very new to me and I am very much a novice at the activity, but fell in love with the sport after this climb.

<img class=”aligncenter wp-image-743 size-large” src=”http://blindendeavors.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/23A2386-1024×682.jpg” alt=”Steve Baskis reaches for a hold while climbing the Bastille Crack in Eldorado Springs, CO.” width=”669″ height=”445″ />A friend named Skiy, who I was hanging out with at a Paradox Sports event in Boulder asked me if I was interested in going climbing. He explained to me that we would be trad climbing, putting in protection in the rocks as we moved up the face. His girlfriend Amanda would lead, I would follow and Skiy would pick up the rear, providing me with commands and direction if necessary.

Climbing is truly tactual and I believe very fun for a blind person. All one needs to do is scan the rock face and secure good foot and hand holds. Finding the hand &amp; foot holds can be challenging at times, but that is where your guide comes into play. A guide climber, who usually climbs below the blind climber will give simple commands to the blind climber, guiding his hands or feet to the necessary hold. Developing a good relationship, communication and a plan of attack with your guide is essential and important. My left arm created a problem and challenge for overcoming this obstacle, but having a great friend, teamwork and a never give up attitude, pushed me to the top.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>For more information about the Bastille Crack, check out:</p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”><a href=”http://www.mountainproject.com/v/the-bastille-crack/105748490″ target=”_blank”> http://www.mountainproject.com/v/the-bastille-crack/105748490</a></p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”><em><strong>Special Thanks to Skiy and Amanda for leading the way!</strong></em></p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”>[ngg_images gallery_ids=”1″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_basic_thumbnails”]</p>

Steve Baskis and Victor Henderson with Old Glory, the tandem bicycle that was created in honor of Victor Cota

Face of America

In April of 2014, my tandem pilot Victor Henderson graciously volunteered to ride with me in the annual Face of America Bicycle Ride from World T.E.A.M. Sports. The ride included 130 injured veterans and 370 able body riders who set out from the pentagon in Arlington, Virginia for the historical city of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Along this 110 mile bicycle ride both Victor and I rolled down city and suburban streets, small back roads and past old country farms. Each rider I believe had a different perspective and experience, for me the ride was a beautiful and exhilarating activity, one that I will try and pursue again next year.

Riding on the back of a tandem bicycle probably would have never crossed my mind when I was sighted, but participating in road tandem cycling after vision loss has become a very therapeutic exercise for me. Racing past buildings, down steep hills and around hair pin turns with the wind in your face, provides a person with a wild rush of adrenaline and sense of freedom. The sense of freedom and ones ability to power themselves forward is what I yearn and look forward to when I take my seat on the back of the tandem. Vision loss, amputation, paralysis, loss of hearing and other injuries/disabilities, can leave an individual feeling discouraged, lost and trapped. Physical fitness, sports and recreation all have contributed to my rehabilitation and recovery, and have helped me regain courage, confidence and independence I thought I had lost.

The Face of America bike ride brings so many great people together to accomplish one amazing endeavor. A special thanks to World T.E.A.M. Sports and all the volunteers who made the ride possible. Please visit the official World T.E.A.M. Sports Face of America website to read more about the ride.

Black and White Photo of Half Dome in Yosemite. Photo by Victor Henderson

Half Dome

In September 2013, Matt Murray, a good friend and climber who I had climbed with before in Russia, Nepal and Colorado invited me on a climb with Paradox Sports of Boulder, Colorado. The climb was going to be a special one to say the least and I was truly pumped to be part of this historical endeavor. Paradox Sports had arranged multiple ascents up rock formations in the world famous Yosemite National Park. The granite monolith El Capitan and Half Dome, were going to be climbed by veterans from the U.S. Military, but most importantly  summit day would be September 11th.

When I think about all the experiences I have had over the past so many years, I cannot forget about the attacks on US soil on September 11th, 2001. The wild coincidence was that Yosemite firefighters were battling wild fires, and for weeks after the twin towers in New York fell firefighters were battling a fiery inferno on the city streets of Manhattan. The fires made the climb more sinister because of the rising ash levels during the day and the distant glow of flames that were seen by the team while driving through the park. I lived in New York on September 11th, 2001 and I, just like many others, will never forget how the attacks changed the world and so many innocent lives.

NPR also made it out for the event, you can listen to the story or read it by clicking here.


Special Thanks to the following people and organizations for making this trip possible:

My guides Matt & Rick

Yosemite National Park

The snow covered peak of Mount Elbrus in the distance.

Mt Elbrus

Mount Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe, had been on my mind ever since climbing Africa’s Kilimanjaro. So after a lot of talk with climbing buddies, a group of us rallied and set out for Russia and another of the 7 summits in 2012. Before every climbing expedition I go on, I do my absolute best to understand the mountain, weather, gear required and whether or not I am physically & mentally prepared too climb. The military taught me a lot about risk assessment, training and gear required to get the mission done. Maybe this is one of the big reasons I pursue wild outdoor adventures.

Most would think after a serious injury sustained during military operations, a person might decide to mitigate risk & danger from their activities. For me I just think harder about what I am going to pursue, and I than try to analyze the benefits of participating in the experience. Climbing is an interesting thing. Why climb a rock in the middle of nowhere? Well, climbing seems to be very comparable to life and the ups and downs we all experience, basically a metaphor. In life we climb high, or at least we try to climb towards our goals & dreams, but we also descend. I believe there is no way around the descent, we sometimes descend back into our normal moods, or in certain situations we may descend into a depressive state of mind.

In the end its all about the journey, right? Well, wherever you decide to go, however you decide to live life, I feel that the descent and adversity we all encounter truly pave a path towards happiness and great accomplishment. What’s that quote I’ve heard in a movie before, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity”.

I bring up a lot of philosophical things in this blog post because this climb on Mount Elbrus was very dangerous and adventurous. My buddies and I were trapped in a white out in a crevasse field on the flanks of this mountain, and at times I really thought I was a goner. I had put a lot of trust into my climbing friends, who were just as blind as myself in the snow storm. We all forged ahead and made the necessary navigational adjustments to move out of the crevasse field and down out of the storm back to our base camp.

Follow the below link to read an article by my friend Brian Mockenhaupt about our adventure on Elbrus:

http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/outdoor-skills/survival/Crossing-to-Safety-When-Danger-Stops-Being-a-Thrill.html

Mount Kilimanjaro and clouds line at sunset, view from savanna landscape in Amboseli, Kenya, Africa

Mount Kilimanjaro

After climbing in Nepal in 2010 with the Soldiers to the Summit gang, I was motivated to climb another big mountain in the world. Kevin Churilla, a mountain guide and new friend I met on the Nepal trip had spoke about his organization K2 Summits and a trip to the roof of Africa. Kevin told me about this trip to climb the tallest mountain on the African continent, he explained that it would be an amazing experience and a trip that I should plan for the future. I told him when we were still deep within the mountains of Nepal that I would definitely be interested and would let him know as soon as we left the Himalayas.

When I arrived in Tanzania, my friend Brian Mockenhaupt and I were shuttled off to the lodge we would be staying at before the big climb. Brian had climbed with me previously on the Soldiers to the Summit expedition and would be guiding me the majority of the time on Africa’s tallest peak. The place we were staying at reminded me of a lodge I stayed at 10 years before when I first visited Africa. In my mind I visualized a rustic and wood constructed building, simple but strong and sound. Circling the main lodge building were the smaller designed living quarters, all equipped with toilets, showers and beds. The beds were sealed behind a thin light weight curtain, which protected us from insects as we slept during the night. All in all, the lodge was very modern and comfortable, a nice place to relax and prepare for our Kilimanjaro climb.

Before the climb we did some humanitarian and volunteer work in a city named Moshi. Moshi, Tanzania is located not far from Kilimanjaro and the Kilimanjaro airport. To this day I will never forget the sound of kids and people singing in the street as we approached the small school. Each one of the volunteers/climbers had a specific role to accomplish, whether it be administering medical aid or stocking the newly constructed medical building, there was something for everyone to do. My job was to hand out goody bags to the kids and as I did, I listened to each of their responses closely. The kids were not used to receiving gifts, especially gift bags that had a mirror within them. All I remember of that specific experience was the excitement and cheerful laughs from the kids examining their new gifts. If someone were to ask me, what was your favorite thing about your climb on Kilimanjaro? I would tell them about our volunteer trip in Moshi and the wonderful kids who greeted us when we arrived in Africa.

Brian wrote a great article and there is some video of the climb on Chicago Magazine.


Special Thanks to the following people and organizations for making this trip possible:

Brian MockenhauptKevin CherillaKristen Sanequist, my guides and all of the 2011 Kilimanjaro team

Steve Baskis above the clouds of Izta

Iztaccihuatl

Just last year, as many of you already know, I lost my sight in the Middle East as I served in the United States Army.  At that point in my life, it was my dream to be a part of the famed Green Berets or the Army’s Special Forces. I looked forward to the challenges of the future and I thought I knew what they would be.  But, when you serve in a dangerous place, you can never lose your concentration or take your mind off of what you are doing, not for a minute or even a second. You never know what may be lurking around the corner, as was the case for me on May 13, 2008.

Now, a year and a half after the blast, I am doing very well. Nevertheless, the challenges I expected before my injuries have been of a very different nature, and it has been a long road. In the first place, I literally fought for my survival during the first couple of weeks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then there were white cane and other mental and emotional frustrations at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines.

All the while, I received tremendous amounts of support from family, friends, and organizations. Those who don’t already know me must know that I love life and there is no better way to live life than to experience what the world has to offer.

I have been able to do so many things during the past year, both because I want to and because of great people. My recent trip is only the latest example.

On Friday, November 6, I left Chicago for Mexico City, but I was certainly not alone. There were many other individuals from different parts of the world making the same journey. We gathered at the Mexico City International Airport to begin an expedition that would eventually lead us to the summit of the third tallest volcano in Mexico.

Global Explorers was the organization that lead the way and directed the program, spearheaded by the famous blind climber Erik Weihenmayer and several amazing staff members who have made many trips possible for young high school and university students. Erik personally invited me along for the adventure. I can’t thank enough, both him and everyone else involved, for providing the experience.

This was something that had never been done in Mexico. There were two parties of blind individuals, one from the U.S. and one from Mexico. The group included ten blind and visually impaired individuals from all walks of life, but there were many more that assisted us. If I am not mistaken, the count totaled more than 30.

Before we climbed, there was some immersion training that occurred. This took place in Amecameca, located about 90 minutes by car from Mexico City. We were shuttled out to a hotel named Hacienda Panoaya. Here we met the rest of the team to climb Iztaccíhuatl.

The Sierra Nevada is the region’s most important mountain range. The average altitude of the range is 4,000 meters above sea level. It ends with the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes. Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl are the second and third highest mountains in Mexico with an altitude of 5,452 and 5,284 meters, respectively. Amecameca is next to the volcanoes, located 2,419 meters above sea level. All of the rivers, streams, and springs result from the constant glacier melt in the Sierra Nevadas. Word is that Mexican ancestors worshipped the mountains, especially the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl Peaks, which were considered gods.

To give you an idea of its size, Iztaccíhuatl is taller than any mountain in the lower 48 states.

At the hotel, I met some great people: Michelle, Eric, Terry, and Eliza. These individuals made up our team. Although they were younger than I, they were all very mature and intelligent. After introductions, we set off to learn about the surrounding area. One of the main projects was to help paint a school and plant trees in a town outside Amecameca. The townspeople gathered to help paint. They also prepared a wonderful traditional Mexican lunch for us.

Two days later, on November 8, we were ready to go to base camp, which was near the bottom of the volcano. A van transported us to camp, taking about an hour and a half to get there from Amecameca.

The next morning, November 9, we climbed 75 percent of the way to “high camp” in order to acclimate ourselves. We got a true taste of the terrain that day. We felt the frozen mud beneath us right away. This gave us great traction to hike up the steep slopes. Here and there the terrain would become more sandy and rocky.

Navigating through large and small gauntlets, we protected ourselves by using our trekking poles. When we hit broken up rock and sand, I knew we were in for a workout. Trying to keep our balance and footing on the steep slopes was always tricky.

After climbing along steep ridges and boulders, we finally made it to our turnaround point. Another group traveled ahead for another 30 minutes but then turned around and headed back down the volcano toward base camp.

The next day, November 10, we climbed the rest of the way to high camp, where we stayed until the following morning so we could make our attempt on the summit. This day was memorable because of the increased communication among the guides and the blind. The weather was superb with no rain or wind to hinder us. We were truly blessed with good conditions.

Again we navigated the route we had already blazed. When we reached the turnaround point we had used the day before, we kept on climbing, this time to our goal of high camp. We ditched the trekking poles in climbing the more “technical” areas. This was not easy for me with my bad arm. Those familiar with my situation know that I have poor circulation and dexterity in my left arm due to my injuries in Iraq. It was a long day of hiking and climbing but we indeed made it to high camp.

The porters had set up camp and all we had to do was move into our tents. The night was filled with a combination of chitchat and snoring. Some slept great while others didn’t catch a wink. The fact that I heard both chitchat and snoring is evidence that I did not sleep well. Although many complained of altitude sickness, I did not have the symptoms they had, which were nausea, stomach pain, and headache. I believe I slept poorly mostly because my feet were so cold.

“Summit Day” was Veterans Day, November 11.

Everyone awoke to a chilly morning. My hands and feet were even colder after I left the tent. Because the air is thinner at a high altitude, there is less oxygen in the body, making it more difficult to breathe and do strenuous activities. I knew this before but now I was experiencing it. I also got hit with the fact that a lack of oxygen also makes one’s limbs colder.

I knew that the best thing to do was to get moving but, at the same time, I thought of going no further and making high camp my personal summit. Erik and Jeff talked me out of it. The reason I thought of stopping was that I couldn’t feel my left arm.

I did my best to hold onto the trekking pole and climb with the rest of the group. Slowly but surely the sun rose and it became warmer. We reached an area where our lead guide, Hector, set up ropes to help us climb the steep rock face.

In the distance I could hear faint shouts and screams. Some of the teams had made it to the top already!  The radios carried by some would crackle, and I could hear crying and the sharing of the experience of being at the summit. It was so close now for me. There was no turning back.

My own guide, Alfredo, then led me to the top. I stood there with everyone else as the sun rose out of the clouds. It was truly an amazing daybreak on Veterans Day.

Thank you for taking the time to learn of my great experience. I hope everyone will reach for their dreams and goals on every scale and at every level, as we did on this marvelous trip. Live your life to the fullest and never give up!