North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest is home to the first piece of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911 which led to the creation of national forests in the eastern United States. In the coming weeks, Pisgah will be the site where Veterans from across the country will have a chance to conquer a challenging 21-mile wilderness hiking expedition along the scenic Art Loeb Trail.

No Barriers Warriors, an offshoot of the Veterans organization No Barriers USA, is organizing the expeditions on four separate dates. No Barriers Warriors helps Veterans redefine their identity, purpose and community as they face past and present challenges. Their programs serve as an opportunity for growth and a catalyst for change as Veterans work to overcome physical and emotional boundaries, foster camaraderie, push through adversity and step up to serve others.

Over the years, these expeditions have changed thousands of lives for the better. Each one uses the No Barriers philosophy to craft experiences that challenge Veterans to think critically about where they are in life, where they want to be and how to get there.two women hiking

About 7,000 feet of climbing

To participate, a Veteran must have a VA service-connected disability. Each of the four expeditions can accommodate up to 12 Veterans. All are free. The hike from Sept. 21-26 is filled, but openings remain for the three others:

  • Aug. 31 – Sept. 4
  • Sept. 7 – Sept. 11
  • Sept. 14 – Sept. 18

The expeditions are physically and emotionally challenging. Carrying a backpack that weighs nearly 30 pounds and includes necessities such as a sleeping bag and tent, food, and personal items, the Veterans climb a total of about 7,000 feet. The Art Loeb Trail passes major peaks including Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet) and Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet). The journey ends when the hikers reach the summit of Black Balsam.

Marlene Champagne, who runs No Barriers Warriors with her husband, Peter Champagne, said most of the Veterans on the expeditions have PTSD. Others may be at risk for suicide or have depression. Marlene and Peter are both Army Veterans.

“We incorporate real-life elements along the way, especially around the campfire at the end of the day where the Veterans can open up to each other about the issues they’re struggling with because they have that common bond,” Marlene said. “It’s really a healing process for them. They’re establishing what we call a rope team where they know they’ve got someone they can reach out to when they’re struggling with these issues.”

At the end of the expedition, “We have a celebratory dinner,” she added. “We show the Veterans a great time, with good food and camaraderie. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to meet the sponsors who have paid for them to have this experience.”

`Milestone event’

Don Timmons, a 76-year-old Vietnam Veteran, completed the expedition last year. He called it a “milestone event” in his life and encourages other Veterans to meet the challenge.

“That was my first hiking experience,” he said. “To do it with other Veterans made it even more special. The three-day, two-night hike was physically and emotionally challenging. It was something I am very proud to have completed, especially at 75 years old. I am very thankful to the No Barriers organization for providing this outstanding opportunity for me and other Veterans across the country.”

Veterans must complete the first phase of the program before embarking on the journey. Phase one involves taking part in an online video session over a one-month period, with one session per week. Veterans learn about the No Barriers’ seven life elements: vision, reach, pioneer, alchemy, summits and elevate.

Visit the No Barriers Warriors registration application to register. Veterans can also contact Marlene Champagne, the No Barriers Warriors’ tri-state development manager, at marlene@nobarriersusa.org or 828-782-8322.

Watch this video to learn more about No Barriers Warriors.

The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on the part of VA. Verify information with the organization offering.

By Mike Richman

Communications assistant on detail with the Veterans Experience Office

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Published on Aug. 16, 2022

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Views to date: 13,252

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9 Comments

  1. Tim R Icely August 24, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    Are there such programs available in California?

  2. Candace Gainey August 18, 2022 at 5:10 pm

    My husband is a disabled veteran that has a service connected disability, I am a veteran too, but not disabled. Could I accompany him on the hike?

  3. John Licht August 18, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    Good luck hiking veterans!

  4. Leland August 18, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    This hiking expedition sounds amazing, my friend Joe and I have been hiking for about 2 years now and really enjoy it. I think this is an amazing opportunity

  5. Jaime August 18, 2022 at 8:56 am

    Is travel included since I am from Texas.

  6. Robert Morris Coleman August 18, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Really sounds nice. A good trip for those who can. I commend the No Barriers Group. But alas, I have a boatload of barriers. Just walking to the mailbox is about my limit. I hope those who go have a great time.

    • USCG August 20, 2022 at 12:50 pm

      ???

  7. donald August 18, 2022 at 2:09 am

    Amazing!!!

  8. Dennis Lintz August 17, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    I cannot attend this year, but I would like to do it next year. I am 100% TDIU P&T due to Service-Connected PTSD. I live in SC just South of Charlotte, NC

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