A walk in the clouds

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***37th AS pilots summit highest mountain in Western Europe

Diana Ross sang the smash hit “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough,” in 1970.
Thirty six years later, three 37th Airlift Squadron pilots found a
mountain high enough for them, Mont Blanc, the summit of which soars to
15,744 feet.

Mont Blanc, French for white mountain, is located in the Alps and is the highest mountain in western Europe.

The idea to hike the treacherous mountain came about while Capt. Todd
Linton, Capt. Ryan Kiernan and Capt. Wendy Swart, all pilots assigned
to the 37th AS, were deployed for four months together at Tallil Air
Base, Iraq.

“We wanted a way to celebrate post deployment and a challenge to focus
on,” said Captain Linton, who admits the idea was Captain Swart’s.

The three Airmen spent five months after returning to Ramstein from
their deployment to train for the trek by running, climbing, hiking and
lifting weights, he said. They also began stockpiling the needed
supplies to include ice axes, ice screws, helmets, crampons and rescue

***image2***In early July, they felt prepared and were excited to tackle the
challenge they set for themselves. But before they could conquer the
Mont Blanc summit, they had to prove they were ready to the Mont Blanc
guides, who are required to escort all those that make the Mont Blanc
trek, said Captain Linton.  

In order to prove themselves, the Airmen summated a 13,000-foot glacier
rock with a Mont Blanc guide, he said. Not only did the pre-trek prove
the Airmen were ready, it allowed the climbers to acclimate to high

The big day arrived July 7, which happened to be Captain Swart’s 30th
birthday. Captain Swart was also joined by her father, Ron Swart, who
flew to
Europe from Ohio to take part in the climb.

The hikers camped that night and summated to the “top of Europe” July 8, said Captain Linton.  

The most challenging part of the hike was a gully pass called the
Valley of Death, he said. The valley is known for melting ice which
often causes falling rocks. Once they successfully passed the Valley of
Death, the climbers were again challenged at the summit ridge where ice
and climate conditions can change by the minute.  

Captain Linton said the ridge is unique in that if you fall to the
north you will die in France, and if you fall to the south you die in

Although the hikers questioned their hefty challenge during the hike,
Captain Linton said it was all worth it when he came down to find his
daughters aged 7, 5 and 3 holding a banner that said, “You did it.”

Captain Linton said the hike was a milestone in the hikers’ lives that they will never forget.

“We work together flying and it was interesting to see how on a
different endeavor we utilized our teamwork,” he said.  “Our lives
relied on doing what was right at the time and working together,
similar to flying.”