Friday, March 9, 2007

Climbing to new heights: Marine's confidence soars after Mountain Leaders Course

Hiking 5.2 miles of mountainous terrain with a 63-pound pack and a rifle in 85 minutes or less earned Sgt. David L. Walter a spot at the Summer Mountain Leaders Course at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif.

But the spark kindled by that course burns long after he left Bridgeport. Walter has immersed himself into the sport of rock climbing and now persuades others to do the same.

Walter, the training noncommissioned officer and administration clerk for Service Company, has embarked on a trek to free himself from the stresses of the Marine Corps, at least for a moment's time, when he's contorting his 5-foot-11-inch lanky body around a boulder or cliff to reach the summit, or "top out."

"You're scared to death, but once you make it, it's a great sense of accomplishment and a rush," he said.

Perched on a boulder 30 feet off the ground, with nothing but countless hours of climbing techniques, rubber soled shoes, a chalk pouch and a strong grip, Walter doesn't spend time being scared of heights--not anymore at least.

"I used to climb trees when I was a kid. I wasn't super scared, but I used to freeze up," he said.

Freezing up was not an option when he was 200 feet up a cliff, roped in with another climber, leap-frogging to the top.

The Mountain Leaders Course helped Walter overcome his fear of heights.

"It takes such focus and all you're thinking about is the rock and that next move," Walter said.

Walter tries to get Marines involved in rock climbing and he leads a group at a local rock gym.

"He's a very good teacher," said Lance Cpl. Jared M. Padula, combat photographer, Combat Visual Information Center. "Without his instruction, I would not have made it very far, and I think I'm in good shape. Seeing him contort his body like that makes it look feasible. He has a rhythm when going up the rock."

Walter tries to climb three to four times a week, either in the gym or outdoors, but he admits it's difficult to squeeze in the time between his other hobbies--singing, songwriting, and scuba diving.

"I'm just having fun with it and I'm enjoying meeting new people as well as keeping up with my abilities for training," he said.

Walter says he wants to return to Bridgeport as an assault climber instructor or transfer to an infantry unit and deploy to Afghanistan to become an advisor.

"I'm a challenge-oriented person and rock climbing is the perfect sport," he said. "It just clicks with me."

Sgt. Len Langston