“I trained quite hard for a Mount Everest summit without supplemental oxygen. I was pretty close to achieving it and fell short,” said Sergeant First Class, Jason Howell, the NCOIC of the Special Operations Mountain Warfare Training Center. Howell is an active-duty soldier with the U.S. Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – living in Colorado. He’s also a mountaineering instructor at the Special Operations Mountain Warfare Training Center, 10th Special Forces Group Airborne, and a Global Rescue member.


Jason Howell selfie wearing sunglasses, a jacket and climbing gear.

Howell summited Mount Everest, but at 28,500 feet, he made the difficult but wise decision to put on the oxygen mask. “I was in a pretty dark spot,” he confessed.

Dark spots, depression and anxiety are all dangerous territory for anyone, but more so for those in the Green Berets who have been at the forefront of U.S. conflicts and, consequently, experience physical and mental damage, including PTS, which is commonplace among current and former members of U.S. Special Forces.


Confronting Challenges and Fostering Growth

To address these issues, Green Beret Racing was founded to help members of the Special Operations Forces find meaningful, fulfilling outlets outside of the regiment.


Four people hold up the Green Beret Racing flag in front of a tent.


“We invest in current and former members of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Regiment and their desires to pursue competition in meaningful, exciting, and rewarding ways,” said Green Beret Racing Founder and Executive Director Nick Merrick. “The programs directly fight the suicide epidemic in the military by removing monetary barriers while placing Green Berets into groups of like-minded people with similar interests that push them to grow and heal.”

Howell didn’t know Merrick was about to help erase his lingering “dark spot” with a chance, and a challenge.

“He tells me I can take a group of climbers and do an expedition to Denali in 2023. I would be taking individuals who have never summited a 20,000-foot mountain,” said Howell.


The Summit Push

Howell picked his team, two active-duty Green Berets – who are also Instructors at the Special Operations Mountain Warfare Training Center (SOMWTC) based out of Fort Carson, Colorado – and an Army veteran with extensive cold mountain survival experience.


Four people at a snowy Denali base camp.


The foursome set out in early June and skinned up the mountain, traveling uphill on skis, arriving that day at Camp 1 without trouble. The next day the team carried equipment, food and supplies halfway to Camp 2 and cached it before camping at 11,000 feet. On the third day, Howell and two of his teammates skied down to base camp to recover more supplies and gear before returning to Camp 2.

That’s when severe weather blew in. “That mountain got hammered with precipitation breaking June snowfall records in a matter of days,” Howell said. “We were held up at Camp 2 for a couple of days before getting a break in the weather.”



As soon as the weather broke, they successfully took a cache up to Camp 3 at 14,000 feet. After that they skied down to Camp 2 at 11,000 for more supplies. “There were a lot of very exposed sections and other sections with blue ice, but we were all able to ski safely down,” Howell said.

The next day, loaded with more supplies, the group planned their last push from Camp 2 at 11,000 feet to Camp 3. “We started moving in roped teams of two. I led and spotted multiple open crevasses and relayed the information to the follow team,” he said.


Climbers with skis on their backpacks ascend a snowy mountain,


By the time the group reached Motorcycle Hill at 12,000 feet they were hit with 50-60 mile an hour winds and colder temperatures dipping well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Under better conditions, Motorcycle Hill, a 600-foot hill and the steepest part of the mountain, is a challenge. Adding harsh winds and frigid temperatures, it’s tougher.

One member of the group reported numbing feet, and that’s when Howell made a critical decision.

“I immediately made the call. We were going to bail and descend back to the 11,000-foot camp,” he said.

The group worked to warm up their teammate’s feet before starting back down. Howell went first to erect the tents, start boiling water and set up the sleeping bags. As soon as the rest of the team arrived at Camp2, Howell put his battery-powered socks on his teammates still numb feet. Within a couple of hours, the numbness dissipated.

The group planned a second attempt to climb to 14,000 feet for the next day, but the teammate suffering from numb feet reported the condition returned and was also concerned about hypothermia. Howell was deeply concerned. He consulted with the other members of the team.

“My top priority as an expedition leader is everybody comes home. I’m not someone who has summit fever. The summit is a goal, but priority is always coming home uninjured. I decided to get my teammate back to base camp and flown to safety,” Howell said.

The other two expedition members geared up and made their move up to Camp 3 at 14,000 feet, evading a storm.



Four feet of snowfall hit Camp 2 during the next 18 hours, delaying Howell’s return to base camp with his ailing teammate. The following day, the twosome got a small weather window and descended 1,000 feet before another tremendous snowstorm blew in with dense cloud cover, creating whiteout conditions and reducing visibility to little more than a few feet.

“The trail vanished. I had to navigate solely off of the GPS navigation app on my phone. It took three-and-a-half hours to move less than two miles, but we made it to 9,200 feet.

“I decided to stop and dig in there. Any lower than 9,200 feet, I knew that the crevasse risk was much greater. I remembered a lot of open crevasses as we were moving up the route days before. Proceeding with limited visibility was too great a risk,” he said.


A person digs out their tent in deep snow.


For the next 28 hours seven feet of snow fell. Howell and his teammate were constantly digging out of their shelter. “There was one time we tried to get some sleep. I woke up after a three-hour nap and the snow level was to the top of the tent,” he said.

The pair waited it out. When the bad weather subsided, they packed and successfully descended to base camp. Then another severe storm moved in delaying the flight out for his teammate by two days.

During this period, Howell’s two other teammates had made their way to Camp 3 at 14,000 feet and had completed a couple rotations up to 17,000 feet to acclimatize and prep for their summit bid.

With his ailing teammate on the way home, Howell didn’t want to miss his chance at a summit with his teammates. “I knew they were going to make their summit attempt the next morning. I had already broken down camp and had all my gear packed. I made a hard, solo push from base camp back up to Camp 3,” he said.

Lugging more than 80 pounds of gear on his pack and sled, Howell reached Camp 2 in five hours. He pressed on, reaching Motorcycle Hill before midnight.

Temperatures had dropped to 25 degrees below zero and 40 mile per hour winds swept through. Howell put on all his puffy layers and his heavy gloves to stay warm.

“When you’re exposed like that there’s no other option but to keep moving. I kept pushing towards Camp 3 at 14,000 feet. My hands and fingers were quite cold but I kept moving, shaking them out to get the circulation back,” he said.

Howell reached Camp 3, joining his two teammates at three in the morning. His solo run from base camp took 10 hours.

He set up his tent and sleeping bag before noticing that his hands and feet were very cold. He boiled water for his feet and core, put on his heated socks and fell asleep. After a couple hours of sleep, he woke up and saw that his two teammates were out making their summit push. That’s when Howell realized he was in worse shape than he thought.


Frostbitten fingers blistered.


“I took off my gloves and saw that I had gotten frostbite on two fingers, my left pinky and middle finger,” he said.

Howell dressed and radioed the Denali Climbing Rangers to check on weather conditions and to let them know that his two teammates were pushing for the summit. He also showed the Rangers his fingers.

Unsurprisingly, Howell was told to descend immediately, get to base camp, and go to the hospital in Anchorage, or he would lose his fingers.

“That’s pretty real to hear. I mulled over this decision for about an hour. Frostbite is obviously a very serious thing. But I have two teammates high on the mountain. They are pushing into very extreme environments. There’s another storm system coming. I wasn’t going to leave my guys. I decided to stay,” he said.



Howell’s teammates were forced to turn back at 18,200 feet by another storm and whiteout conditions. They reached Camp 3 safely, joining Howell. The threesome waited out the storm for three days in the hopes of another good weather window and an opportunity to go for the summit.

“My fingers had swollen but I knew it was low grade frostbite. I was confident I could keep my hands and fingers warm and climb safely.

They never got another good weather window, however. The threesome had a long discussion balancing the weather, the risk, the hazards and the summit.

“Two of us wanted to continue but one said no way. If that one individual is sensing something that the other two are not, then it’s critically important to listen to that. We did listen and turned back,” Howell said.


Skiing down a steep chute on Denali.


The group left Camp 3 that evening and safely returned to base camp. The next day they flew home.

“As we were flying out, a huge lenticular cloud sat on top of the Denali summit. No team summited that day. Other teams that had planned on summiting ended up bailing due to the adverse weather conditions,” Howell said.

His fingers? They’re fine. Some frostbite, serious but superficial.


Bloodied fingertips after frostbite.


In the end, Howell noted the importance of the group. “When you do these things, team dynamic is critical. Everybody has a voice.”


Thanks to Jason Howell, his team, and Green Beret Racing for sharing this adventure and for producing this incredible documentary of the Denali expedition. Give it a watch! We promise you won’t regret it.