With COVID-19 shutting down many Veterans’ trips, Veterans Expeditions continues to operate, providing outdoor opportunities for Veterans.

Veterans Expeditions, also known as VetEx, organized a climbing trip Sept. 11-13 for Veterans at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

The group size was smaller than normal to accommodate proper social distancing measures, said John Gannon, Veterans Expeditions board member and a Marine Corps Veteran.

The trip to Seneca Rocks in the Monongahela National Forest involved multi-pitch climbing. This style involves stopping at multiple points, or pitches, during the climb. The ascent takes climbers about 900 feet above the North Fork River.

Marine Jason Stender scales a rock face Sept. 12 at Seneca Rocks.

Marine Jason Stender scales a rock face Sept. 12 at Seneca Rocks.

“I’ve had small experiences climbing outdoors, but never multi-pitch climbing,” said Josh Johnson, a Marine Corps and Army Veteran on the trip. “To actually go up and be where birds were—birds were actually flying lower than where we were—I thought that was a gnarly experience.”

The Seneca Rocks trip also coincided with the group’s 11th anniversary providing expeditions for Veterans, said Nick Watson, VetEx co-founder and an Army Veteran. The trip was a typical VetEx event with a mix of new Veterans with some previous attendees.

“That mix is definitely a good mix,” Watson said. “You’ve got folks to be able to tell the folks that are brand new ‘we’ll get through this.’”

Watson also said apprehension about joining a new group may stop some Veterans from joining. He said coming out opens up new experiences. He pointed to Army Veteran Josh Oakley. Oakley initially did not want to come on a trip. His wife encouraged him to join a trip. He’s now the VetEx board president.

“I realize that it’s hard for me to assimilate and adapt to other people that don’t have similar experiences to me,” Johnson said. “Being able to be with people that are like minded while outside my comfort zone, just sharing time in service, makes me trust you just a little more.”

Veterans Expeditions is a Veteran-led, 501c3 chartered non-profit organization focused on the community and outdoors.

Upcoming trips

Even though Veterans Expeditions cut down the number of events due to COVID, upcoming trips include:

  • Rock climbing at Gunks, located near New Paltz, New York.
  • Rock climbing at Shelf Road outside of Canon City, Colorado.
  • Veteran’s Day Weekend rock climbing and mountain biking trip in Moab, Utah.
  • Rock climbing in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Learn more at https://www.vetexpeditions.com/.

Disclaimer: The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products or services on behalf of VA.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Sep. 16, 2020

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