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Pete McAfee makes his mark on America’s tallest mountain

The AACH imaging tech and his climbing partner were the first amputees to summit, then ski down Denali. Now he’s climbing to help others who need prosthetics.

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Pete McAfee of AACH set a climbing record on Denali, the highest peak in North America.

It would seem that a fall off a roof — one that cost Pete McAfee his right leg at 6 years old — would make him fearful of heights. On the contrary, that defining moment may have given McAfee the determination to conquer the tallest height in North America, Denali.

On June 20, McAfee, a CT and X-ray tech at Asante Ashland, and his climbing buddy, Vasu Sojitra, became the first amputees to summit the Alaskan peak — then ski back down. News of their feat quickly spread in mountaineering circles, then was chronicled in Outside magazine.

It was a different kind of trip for McAfee, who was used to climbing solo. “Going on this trip I started realizing the team dynamic,” he says. “Everybody was helping and everybody was pulling their weight. I came to this realization that no one can do this alone. We all needed something from the team.”

As a child, McAfee likely didn’t envision he’d grow up to be a mountaineer. He was raised in the flatlands of West Texas, but often backpacked with his father in the Guadalupe mountains. That led to canyoneering, and rappelling into canyons and caves. By the time he was in his 20s and married to Joy McAfee, a labor and delivery nurse at ARRMC, the couple wanted a change of scenery. They moved to Oregon and had two daughters, age 7 and 9.

McAfee began climbing in earnest about six years ago, conquering Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Rainier. He developed a passion for winter mountaineering, which allowed him to apply both skiing and the rope and rigging techniques he learned while canyoneering. For descents, he swaps his prosthetic device for a single ski in his backpack, then skis down on one leg.

It was the same technique he used on Denali, and one he’ll use on Cotopaxi, a peak in Ecuador’s Andes mountain range, when he heads to South America later this month. He had no plans to scale that mountain until a chance encounter at an Anchorage pizza place earlier this summer. He and his climbing friends, still carrying their mountaineering gear, had stopped to eat when a customer approached them.

“Did you just do Denali or what?” the man asked.

“Were were like, yeah,” McAfee recalled.

Pete, Joy and daughters Hannah and Katy celebrated July 4 on the Washington coast.

The patron invited him to participate in the Ecuador climb, which turns out to be a fundraiser for the Range of Motion Project, or ROMP. The nonprofit provide prosthetics to amputees in underserved communities in Latin America.

“It was a crazy coincidence,” McAfee says. “Absolutely crazy.”

He will leave on Sept. 24 with the support of the mountaineering community, donors to his fundraising page, his friends, and his wife, Joy.

“She has never doubted me once,” he says. “If I didn’t have her none of this would have been possible.”

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