Conquering Denali Through the WEAR Program

  • Published
  • By Maria Galvez
  • 673rd ABW/PA
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — In a remarkable display of determination and teamwork, U.S. Air Force Capt. Mikayla DeMers, an aircraft maintenance officer assigned to the 525th Fighter Generation Squadron and a mountaineer, along with a group of fellow climbers embarked on a challenging expedition to conquer the mighty Denali, the highest peak in North America, climbing 16,800 feet before meeting extreme avalanche conditions.

"My team climbed through the entire night to arrive at Denali base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier at around 5:30 in the morning," said DeMers.

After 18 days of grueling effort, the team reached the impressive altitude before being forced to turn back due to the danger.
The expedition, made possible through the We Are All Recruiters program, showcased the unwavering dedication and resilience of Air Force members.

The We Are All Recruiters program may grant individuals permissive temporary duty status if they participate in an event that directly enhances the recruiting mission. All Airmen, regardless of their Air Force specialty code, are recruiters.

A WEAR event, like DeMers’ Denali climb, is characterized by the direct interaction of Air Force and Space Force personnel who educate and increase public awareness of the Air Force and Space Force and could potentially provide numerous leads for recruiters, aiding the recruiting mission.

"For a long time I thought not summiting this mountain would make me feel like a failure, but that’s not the case at all," DeMers reflected.

In life, DeMers said she measures success by what she can control and can see the parallels amongst the climbing and aircraft maintenance worlds.

“Both require time, focus and determination to be successful,” said DeMers.

"On Denali – or any big mountain – you can control three things, as I see it: your physical strength, your mental health, and how well you take care of yourself while you’re there. We did that."

Despite not reaching the 20,310 ft summit, the climbers can take pride in their accomplishments.

"I'm happy to report that I high-pointed, I am safe, I felt strong, and I gave it my absolute all," DeMers shared. "I will be back to Denali; it was an honor to be one of the 997 climbers who got to give it a go this year."

When asked what inspired DeMers to take on such a difficult endeavor, she credits it to the late U.S. extreme skier, Hilaree Nelson, who successfully completed a double-summit on Denali in 2017 and was the first woman to summit two 8,000-meter peaks (Everest and Lhotse) in 24 hours.

“The rates of both women in aircraft maintenance and women in climbing are very similar,” emphasized DeMers. “They’re both very low numbers, so I want to continue to light the streetlamps on the path that Hillary paved for generations to come.”

“It’s kind of crazy to think of where this all started for me,” said DeMers. “I was brand new to the Air Force, living in Texas, just a couple of hours away from my family. Now I’m living in Alaska, climbing Denali and living a completely different life.”
Throughout their arduous journey, the climbers faced unprecedented snowfall, 45-mile-per-hour winds, and treacherous avalanche conditions, factors beyond their control. "You don’t climb Denali; Denali lets you climb it,” DeMers said. “This time she said no."

The success of this expedition serves as a powerful recruitment tool for the Air Force, inspiring potential recruits to consider joining the ranks. Through her extraordinary achievement, DeMers highlighted the opportunities for personal growth, adventure, and service that come with a career in the military.