Former Hells Angel Tim Wayne Medvitz has had some big ideas in the past decade and a half. One is to use his mountaineering skills to take seriously injured military veterans on climbs up the world’s highest peaks. The Heroes Project charity he created after a motorcycle accident shattered his body and life has been doing this since 2009, even summiting Everest.
One of THP’s principal training grounds, the strikingly beautiful Mt. Baldy in Southern California, inspired the group’s latest effort, creating a veteran retreat center. This complex of cabins and recreational buildings will be built on United States Forest Service property in Icehouse Canyon, two miles from Mt. Baldy Village (and driving distance from Los Angeles).
Barring any unforeseen crises, the project will break ground in early 2024 and hopefully open in Fall 2025, Medvitz predicted, adding in an email, “It’s been a four year journey just to get the USFS to approve this project.”
The group founder is undaunted by the property’s history of flooding and fire, or the namesake trail’s killer reputation. (The Los Angeles Times described it this way in a February 2, 2023 article: “That familiarity and easy access from a huge urban area have combined to give the mountain one of the worst records for death and injury in the U.S.. Since 2020, there have been more than 100 searches for missing hikers on Mt. Baldy, with six confirmed deaths, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.” British actor Julian Sands lost his life on that trail hiking solo last winter.
So far, none of those deaths, injuries or search and rescues have been associated with THP’s veteran training or volunteer fundraising events. (I participated* in the latter once in 2014, and found the Devil’s Backbone section of the trail aptly named; the hikespeak blog dubbed it “spine tingling” in an undated post.)
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Medvitz, whose team has had to address dangerous conditions with THP’s climbs – including an avalanche and earthquake en route to a record-setting Everest summit by a Marine amputee – is not intimidated by Baldy’s physical (or development) challenges. He’s just plainly excited about bringing more vets in to enjoy the strikingly beautiful surroundings, each other’s company and new adventures to be planned there.
“After 10 years and thousands of hours of dreaming, drafting, designing, and negotiating, THP is proud to announce that effective, June 29th, 2023 the United States Forest Service special use permit is officially signed and in our hands!” his website proclaims. “Every detail of the VRC has been designed so that our veterans can disconnect from life’s everyday stresses and reconnect with the soldier/Marine that has been lost.” Given these new accommodations, the site notes, “We are able to offer temporary housing and a taste of the great outdoors, all part of our transformative experience.”
“The only way to build a facility like this on USFS land would be to have an existing special use permit grandfathered in on the land,” Medvitz explained in his note. “The Old Icehouse resort had exactly that and needed to be brought back to life; we will do that in partnership with the USFS and with a great cause behind it. As far as floods and fire hazards are concerned, well, any mountain retreat will bring everything that mother nature throws at it,” he mused, then added that all of the Forest Service’s requirements for safety will be met. California’s wildfires have become more frequent and intense in recent years, including in Baldy’s home range, so resilience planning is a necessary precaution.
Wounded Warrior Housing
Assisting the relentless adventurer in constructing the new retreat center is Scott Youngren, a general contractor for Homes for Our Troops, another nonprofit organization serving combat veterans. Medvitz shared that the builder has created accessible homes for THP alumni as part of his HFOT work, so this new mini mountain compound will be a kind of homecoming for him – and them!
San Diego area Marine veteran and double amputee Julian Torres summited Mt. Kilimanjaro with the group and received an adaptive home from HFOT. He lives less than two hours from the new retreat.
The new center will include three cabins, two accommodating four guests and one accommodating two. There will also be tent camping spaces and a welcoming/programming center.
Building for this population needs to address a range of injuries, both seen and unseen, which Youngren’s experience with HFOT will help inform. These include limb loss, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. “Mt Baldy and the Baldy community has always delivered on everything needed to pull these vets out of their dark places,” Medvitz noted.
The mountain setting can be a boon to those suffering from PTS in particular, but potentially a challenge to those with mobility issues. “We will be ADA compliant,” Medvitz commented. TBI is considered a signature issue of the Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, which have formed the core of his mountain climbers. “We do focus on primarily post 9/11 combat wounded vets, but we will broaden our veteran outreach in other categories once we’re up and running.”
This article is part of a series I dedicate to military-related accommodations every Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. You can read past stories in my November and May archives going back to 2020.
I noted* above that I participated in a fundraiser for The Heroes Project, which merits disclosure. I made two donations of $500 apiece, one in 2014 as part of its Climb for Heroes fundraiser and one the next year for a related documentary (as yet unreleased) about the Everest summit. I do not serve (and never have) in any official capacity with the group.