Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Melone
PACIFIC OCEAN – Standing at the edge of Mount Ellinor’s summit, a hiker admires the breathtaking view. A thin layer of snow dusts the valleys of pine trees, rivers and mountain ranges in all directions. Low hanging fog rolls in from the west as a storm rumbles in the distance. Quickly throwing his pack down, he straps on his crampons, dons a snow pant liner and sits down. The only quick and safe way off the summit is to slide down an avalanche chute, a steep mountain slope.
Constantly looking toward bigger hiking challenges, Information Systems Technician (IT) 2nd Class Christian Sandiko is on journey to achieve new heights.
Sandiko grew up in Washington and began hiking at a young age. He began casually hiking on small trials in North Bend. It was a trip to Japan that changed his views on hiking.
“I hiked up Mount Fuji to an elevation height I never had been to before,” said Sandiko. “The views were amazing and humbling. After that, I wanted more.”
Sandiko has hiked through 20 different areas, across 50 different trails, from the Cascades to the Olympic mountain ranges.
“It seemed that every new hike would take me to something beyond words,” said Sandiko. “Each new summit was an achievement and experience I will remember forever. It is an addiction that keeps me pushing harder to see more and more.”
USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN74) maintenance and operational schedule makes getting out to new locaions a little more difficult than Sandiko would like, forcing him to capitalize on what time he has.
“Before an underway or a rough week at work, [hiking] really helps me relax. It’s a time where I can reflect and gather a peace of mind before going back to work.”
Having slid down to the false summit of Mount Ellinor, Sandiko tries to walk down the side of the avalanche chute. As he steps down the loose snow falls through causing his body to start sliding. Now on his stomach he drives his trek poles into the snow before his momentum becomes too great.
He frequently travels with other people, each new exploration helping him gain experience and providing an opportunity to share his knowledge. Sandiko took IT3 Ryan Lewis on his first hike.
“Sandiko would share his photos and videos of his hikes and leave me wanting to see it myself first-hand,” said Lewis. “He is really passionate about it and always eager to take out whoever is interested in experiencing hiking.”
First-timers are all at different physical and mental levels. Sandiko keeps things fun but simple on their first hike.
“Everyone wants to see the amazing views, but that doesn’t mean you have to climb thousands of feet to see them,” said Sandiko. “You don’t want to over challenge yourself the first few times out. It can be very discouraging.”
Carefully repositioning on to his back, Sandiko takes a deep breath and releases the trek pole from the snow. His speed is almost instantaneous as he races down the chute. Trying to use his feet to slow down, he kicks up more snow into his face. He digs repeatedly into the snow to slow himself to a safer speed.
The challenge drives Sandiko toward his goals these days, taking him to many difficult areas. Lake Colchuck, for instance, was a technical hike over difficult, rocky terrain; and Granite Mountain presented environment changes, starting out dry with sudden changes to wet and icy conditions.
“It’s all building up toward tackling Mount Rainer. That is a very dangerous climb and I will have to put in more training before I make my attempt,” said Sandiko. “After that who knows, I would love to make it out to the Swiss Alps and Himalayas.”
Sandiko’s solo hike up Mount Ellinor was a 6,000 ft trip to the summit. The mountain was snowed in that day and the climb was nothing but fog. When he reached the summit the weather cleared, leaving him only fifteen minutes to enjoy the views before he had to make his descent.
“Mount Ellinor is my most satisfying achievement to date but also the scariest,” said Sandiko. “My body was worn down from the climb and I no time to rest before I had to start my descent. The whole experience was humbling and taught me about how I need to be careful and respect my surroundings.”
Sandiko safely reaches the bottom of the chute. He stands up and dusts himself off. Smiling at the thrill of the hike he is ready for the next challenge on his journey.