by 1st Lt. Jonathan Simmons
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Colorado Springs’ Pikes Peak towers an impressive 14,115 feet above sea level, but one member of Headquarters Air Force Space Command had his sights set higher, about 15,000 feet higher.
Lt. Col. Peter Solie, the 43-year-old Chief of the AFSPC Space Safety Division, reached the summit of Mount Everest May 17 at 7 a.m. on his ancestral Norwegian Independence Day, after nearly two months of climbing with a team of 15 other clients.
“I was anxious and excited,” said Colonel Solie as he began his climb after a seven-day trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC). “The first time I saw the mountain was jaw dropping.”
Colonel Solie arrived at EBC on April 7. Base camp for this climb stands at about 17,600 feet above sea level in Nepal. He had climbed 53 of Colorado’s 54 peaks that are 14,000 feet and above (the “14ers”) and South America’s tallest mountain, Aconcagua, in preparation. Even with this experience, Colonel Solie described the trek up to the world’s highest peak as an epic challenge.
“At roughly five and a half miles high, it was like climbing four 14ers consecutively stacked on top of each other with a bag over your head as you climbed the last one,” said Colonel Solie.
He reported the more dangerous part of the climb was near the beginning between EBC and Camp I traversing through the Khumbu Icefall. The icefall is a massive flowing glacier with shifting blocks of ice called seracs, that crack, fall and crush unpredictably. This made situational awareness critical.
“Saving energy to descend safely was also of vital concern,” he said. “Approximately 80 percent of the over 200 fatalities on Everest occurred during decent.”
Facing dangers like the Khumbu wasn’t just an idea that popped into Colonel Solie’s head one day. It’s been a dream he’s had from childhood.
“I grew up hiking and climbing in Montana,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine since high school. I’ve wanted to go to space and climb Everest and have been saving for the trip since college.”
Both the expense and the physical rigor of the trek called for extensive preparations, but for Colonel Solie the physical preparations were just a bit of a surge from his regular physical training routine. The surge included running the AF Marathon along with a mid-winter trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Colonel Solie is a huge fan of the new Air Force fitness program.
“I made sure to stay fit aerobically and took the Air Force’s weekly workout time.”
Aside from regular aerobic exercise, he took the uncharacteristic step of trying to gain some body fat weight to be spent during the expedition, pounds well used during the climb.
“I was only able to put on about five pounds as I continued to exercise,” said Colonel Solie who lost a total of 10 pounds during the expedition.
He encourages Airmen to take control of their own fitness and take advantage of Air Force programs available to them.
“Being fit buys you freedom to live a more fulfilling life and the ability to say ‘yes’ to many gratifying activities,” he said. “Fitness is within our control and the most significant factor influencing our quality of life. Not being fit, healthy and well deprives us of many opportunities. Attaining a new level of fitness means changing habits incrementally — like eating that elephant one bite at a time.”
Colonel Solie feels accomplished, but humble about his expedition to the highest point on Earth. “People shouldn’t say ‘wow’,” he said. “What I did is within most people’s potential. It’s a matter of not resigning yourself to weaknesses and not self-imposing limits.”
As a member of the AFSPC safety staff, Colonel Solie’s mindset was trained to evaluate, mitigate and take calculated risk.
“My expedition mates and I made our climb safe by being physically and mentally prepared, using the proper gear, and studying the weather forecasts. Knowing what the jet stream was doing was critical when deciding when to push for the summit.”
For some, conquering Everest is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but Colonel Solie plans to climb it again when he’s 77 years old to beat the record of oldest person to climb the mountain, currently held by Min Bahadur Sherchan of Nepal, who was 76 when he climbed. “I gained tremendous confidence and zeal for life from this experience.”
The next big challenge for Colonel Solie will be to start a family, which he believes will be far more enduring and challenging.
On any given day back at HQ AFSPC, Colonel Solie could be found listening and studying field operations and advising personnel on how to better protect command assets, leading Safety Directorate personnel on Building 1’s first floor, and of course doing PT.
The two-month Everest trek was Colonel Solie’s last act on active duty, as he entered terminal leave just prior to his grand adventure. He has nothing but gratitude for his 25 years with the Air Force and his advice to Airmen: “Be fit, help save the planet and be happy.”