Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interview with Orion President Mike Starich, Veteran Low to High Challenge Hike Participant

Earlier this month, a team of Orion employees, Veterans, Partners, and Corporate Sponsors hiked from the lowest point in Death Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney. The trek covered 120+ miles, with a 14,787 elevation change. Read the full week’s events of the hike here.

From the Battlefield to the Boardroom interviewed Mike Starich, President of Orion International and member of Team One from the Veteran Low to High Challenge hike, to get an insider’s view of the daunting, but otherwise inspiring week on the trails. Check out his responses below:

Why was that specific route (Death Valley → Mount Whitney) chosen?

“I was looking to have an event of note to draw attention to our charitable effort this year towards veterans. Another Centre portfolio company CEO had organized a trip to Kilimanjaro. That was a great idea, but I knew that for our first big effort, we would likely need to keep it domestic rather than international. Then last fall, an old idea emerged to me. Long ago, an old Marine Corps friend of mine and I had mused about trekking from the lowest point in the lower 48 states to the highest point as a means of testing ourselves. When I ran the idea by some Orion folks, most, if not all, were excited about the idea. So, the Low to High Challenge was born.”

Why did you decide personally to take on the challenge?

“I enjoy challenging myself and enjoy the outdoors. To me, this event was a good combination of those two, plus tying in our company and the charity event.”

How did you prepare for the hike?

“I did months of training - running, strength-training, long hikes with a pack, and hours of stair-climber work, since there are few hills near my home to train on. Then there was the equipment and ensuring that was all in order with that. Then, of course, there was all of the logistical prep that so many people helped with. In retrospect, post-trip, I needed to do more of an honest assessment of the challenges. Though I knew and we all knew it was going to be extremely challenging, the Low to High Challenge hike still was a notch or two above that.” 

What was the biggest challenge of the hike?

“Being on Team One, it was the climb up the north side of Mill Canyon at the dry waterfall. There were others, as well – the Day One ascent of Telescope Ridge; the 28 mile Death March through Panamint Valley; after the cliff rescue, the long climb out of Mill Canyon at night; the long hike and ascent up to Cerro Gordo; and finally the two days of ascent between Lone Pine and the summit of Mount Whitney. The Mount Whitney final ascent day was at least 6,100 feet of total elevation gain and 21.4 miles round trip, so it was extremely challenging as well mostly due to the issues associated with altitude.” View a full course map.

What did you find the most rewarding part of the hike?

“The summit of Mount Whitney and seeing the team make it after so much effort and overcoming so many obstacles along the way.”

What surprised you most about the hike?

“There were a bunch of lessons learned, here are some:
  • I should have done a physical recon ahead of time to assess the road conditions and also to assess the suspected difficult spots along the trek – there were many.
  • I should have set higher standards regarding the training, and emphasized the extreme difficulties more.
  • Communications: I should have emphasized cross-training more on the radios / satellite phones. A further issue for me as a leader was ensuring good communication between Team One and Team Two. It just was not up to standard, and caused some tough issues for Team Two to deal with that could have been avoided.
  • Each night prior, analyze the route for the most difficult spots; if there is even a small chance of requiring a rope, bring the rope. 
  • When in Death Valley, bring more water/electrolytes than you think you will need.
I am sure there are others, but those are the big ones.”

Would you complete this trek again (or something similar)?

“I would likely not do it again, but only because I have already done it. Will I continue with more trekking and climbing? Absolutely. This experience will inform the next adventures.”

“Overall, I view the trip as a significant achievement. In the end, it was highly demanding, treacherous, exhausting, and for me, humbling. Death Valley, the Panamint Mountains and Valley, the Inyo Mountains and Mount Whitney pounded us. It delivered more difficulties than I expected. Was it worth the effort? For me, it was. I personally observed people handling the extreme and often unexpected difficulties with matter-of-factness, humor and guts.  I am proud to have been a part of it.”

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Veteran Low to High Challenge Hike! Your dedication and perseverance is a testimony to those military members who serve and have served our nation.

While the journey from Death Valley to Mount Whitney has ended, we continue in our efforts to raise $100K+ for Veterans in 2014 through the Veteran Low to High Challenge for our partner organizations. We will continue to accept donations through December 15, 2014. Donate to our Veterans.

We have held a 5K race in support of the Veteran Low to High Challenge in each of the cities in which we have an Orion office – Austin, TX; Cincinnati, OH; Raleigh, NC; and Virginia Beach, VA; with our final 5K in San Diego, CA on November 8th. The 5Ks have already raised $39,869.62 for our partner organizations, with over 700 runners participating!

Learn more about the Veteran Low to High Challenge at

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