‘Nothing is going to stop us from doing it’

Basalt’s Assaf Dory and three other military veterans facing injuries or chronic pain start their Mount Elbert Challenge today

The Mount Elbert Challengers do an assessment hike on Richmond Ridge in Aspen on Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Basalt resident Assaf Dory’s hike to tree line on Mount Elbert with his 12-year-old daughter earlier this summer solidified his resolve to return and reach the summit, but it won’t just be another case of “peak bagging.”

Dory is an above-knee amputee with a prosthetic right leg. He also suffers from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, dubbed “the suicide disease” because of the unrelenting toll on its victims. The disease is threatening to claim his left foot, as well.

Despite the challenges, Dory and three other military veterans battling with injuries, chronic conditions or both plan to hike Mount Elbert in two stages starting Tuesday. Dory, Shannon Von Driska, Dash Wong and Steven Fotion will hike Tuesday from the south trailhead to a base camp at tree line. On Wednesday, they intend to complete the Mount Elbert Challenge by hiking to the summit.

“Nothing is going to stop us from doing it,” Dory said.

The team has strong connections to the Roaring Fork Valley. Dory is a well-known Basalt resident. Wong is from Glenwood Springs and Fotion is from Carbondale.

Von Driska is a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, who befriended Dory in a support group for people who suffer from CRPS.

The four veterans are undertaking the climb to inspire veterans and others who struggle to cope with physical and psychological scars to reach out for help. The hike also is a fundraiser for Colorado-based Challenge America. It is a nonprofit with the mission of connecting service members, veterans and their families with resources and solutions.

How to help

For more information on the Mount Elbert Challenge, including biographies on the team members, and to donate, go to–elbert.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times will be documenting this week’s climb and it will be featured in the Sept. 23 edition of the Aspen Times Weekly.

The group’s goal is to raise $118,000 with the hike. They have raised about $45,000.

Dory said the support of midvalley residents has been incredible. He has to factor in extra time for shopping at the grocery store or working out at the gym because so many people stop him to chat about the effort.

He has trained throughout the summer with trips up the steep Arbaney-Kittle Trail in Holland Hills, regular weight training and a journey up Midnight Mine Road with the entire team. He has lost 60 pounds since first conceiving of the hike.

The goal has inspired him to spend more time on his feet.

“Walking is part of my day now,” he said.

Dory faces consequences beyond fatigue. He knows that hiking 6 miles with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet will take a brutal physical toll on his body. But it also will take a load off his mind.

“For me, doing this hike is so important psychologically,” he said. Dory also wants to show veterans and first responders of all types who are facing problems that anything is possible — with a little help from their friends.

Dory and the team have plenty of help from their friends. Aspen Alpine Guides will accompany them to their camp at tree line. A support team of friends from Basalt and elsewhere will launch from the trailhead early Wednesday, catch up and provide tactical and mental support for the summit push.

Despite the help, it was the hike with his daughter Mechel that provided all the inspiration Dory needs. He looks forward to more hikes with her. He saw the beauty of Colorado’s tallest peak and, more importantly, he got a glimpse of what he will face over the next two days.

“My personal confidence is way higher,” Dory said. “I know what I’m facing.”