Intrepid former U.S. Marine Kirstie Ennis has begun the climb of her life!
The veteran — who survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2012 that resulted in severe injuries and required more than 40 surgeries — has arrived at Base Camp on her Everest expedition that sees her hoping to be first female above-the-knee amputee to scale the world’s most famous — and highest — mountain.
On Monday, she posted a new photo at Base Camp that showed her practicing ice fall climbs. “Just making sure we’ve got our systems dialed,” she captioned the photo on Instagram. “The boys will be doing a little recce on the ice fall this morning so we can double check everything else!”
After a period of acclimatization hikes in the lower reaches of the mountain in Nepal, she and her team have been slowly progressing these first stages in order to avoid altitude sickness.
“It has sunk in that I am actually going to climb Everest,” Ennis tells PEOPLE. “For the last year and a half, I have talked about making this happen. And now here I am. I try my hardest to do as I say, and say what I mean. This is now the truest testament to that.”
Ennis says she has been experiencing a “twisted kind of excitement,” as she has been daydreaming about dragging her body through an ice fall, “teetering on ladders across traverses.”
“Later, we also stopped in to be blessed by the lama. He was not super impressed with me on one leg as he continued to gesture to my leg in a language I can barely say hello in; I’m guessing it was because he was unsure of me climbing. He started his prayers and created our necklaces. It was my turn to kneel, and I hoped he was saying the same blessings over me that he was everyone else. I’ve never been very religious, but this was special to me. • The lama poured a yellow liquid in my hand, apparently blessed flower nectar. I sipped it out of my hand, only because I was told to. The liquid didn’t concern me — but drinking it out of my filthy paw was terrifying. There goes my gut health. • We got back on the trail and later stopped in Somare for lunch – supposedly half way to Dingboche. After eating, our starts are always slow. The trek seemed to last forever over the next 45 minutes. Several sweet people stopped to say hello and inquire about what exactly I was doing out there, when I decided I was over walking today. I changed up the pace. To Hell with the tortoise, I went for the hare. The pace felt good as I wasn’t panting yet, but I could hear the boys. My heart rate was up a bit and I was moving well. The village of Dingboche was getting closer and all I could think about was getting my leg off — pretty similar to the feeling of taking my bra off at the end of the day.” My Everest April 7-9 Blog is Live. Link in bio. • : @myrmidonexpeditions @robgowler @ironwillmovie @o4oxigen @wilderness_athlete @leer_caps @curves.official @global_rescue @backcountrymedical @heatsheets @colemanusa
A post shared by Kirstie Ennis (@kirstie_ennis) on Apr 9, 2019 at 7:19pm PDT
“I could nearly feel the pain I was going to put my body through,” she adds. “To motivate myself, I do visualize summiting Everest. But what if that actually happens? We may actually be able to pull this off. I may actually stand on top of the world on one leg.”
RELATED: Prince Harry’s Hero Amputee (and Ex-US Marine) Hopes to Inspire Young Women – by Climbing Everest
Ennis, who hails from Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado, first came to prominence when she was hugged by Prince Harry at the end of a 1,000-mile walk around Britain. She had been severely injured when a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan in 2012, and has been setting herself new targets as she pushes herself to new heights since scaled Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2017. She is a testament to programs like the Endeavour Fund and Harry’s Invictus Games, which inspire former service members to look beyond their injuries.
We’ve made it in to Lobuche and are just a couple days from base camp! And the latest blog is up! Link is in the bio. • “Day 8: The ongoing joke is that I should have made two buttons to wear during the trek: 1. Yes. I am actually going for the summit. 2. Photos are a $5 donation to The Kirstie Ennis Foundation. • Next time.” . Please give it a read and share with your friends!
A post shared by Kirstie Ennis (@kirstie_ennis) on Apr 11, 2019 at 6:36am PDT
Ennis is accompanied by a small team including climbing partner Christopher Pollock, a videographer, and carries two different knees and three different feet for the varying terrain. She is hoping to raises money and awareness for her foundation, that provides help for projects that target “education, opportunity, and healing in the outdoors.”
This expedition feels very different from the other mountains she has scaled “because of how hard I have worked for this,” she adds. “It’s also different because of how it’s affected those around me. Because Everest is so well known, and famously dangerous, my friends and family have been very vocal about how they feel. It worries everyone which puts a bizarre sense of guilt over me.”
“This really is a test of everything that I have trained for at this point.”