This year, local guiding company KEP Expeditions began hosting Oscar Mike Expeditions, an organization that specializes in taking veterans with disabilities backpacking, fly fishing, and camping. Recently, I joined KEP owner Brian Kaepplinger on an Oscar Mike expedition to learn more about this program, and what KEP offers.
What does Oscar Mike mean? and how did KEP Expeditions become involved?
Oscar Mike means “on the move”, and is a social enterprise that sells American-made apparel, with proceeds going to the Oscar Mike foundation which is a leader in changing lives through adaptive concepts. The founder of Oscar Mike is my cousin, Noah. Ever since my days as a rafting guide, we have been in talks about how to get some sort of Oscar Mike activity here in Colorado. Once KEP Expeditions was up and running, we proved that a more inclusive tour of Rocky Mountain National Park was a great option for visitors. I had help from local veterans (Rob and Becca Schuler, Cris Martinez) to come up with some sort of plan for a custom Oscar Mike expedition in RMNP/Estes Park. We tried many different local activities and came up with a “pitch” and approached Noah and the Oscar Mike Foundation with a pitch of what we could accomplish here.
How long have KEP Expeditions been hosting Oscar Mike Expeditions in Estes Park?
This year was the first year to officially host 5 weeks long Oscar Mike expeditions for people other than family and friends. In years past we have been trying out and researching many different activities. However, This year was the first of many more custom expeditions to come. Veterans with disabilities were contacted through different VAs and through the Oscar Mike Foundation with an opportunity to sign up for this Colorado Oscar Mike expedition. Each week we had up to 7 veterans travel in from all over the country for this mountain experience. This retreat aims to give veterans a fun, active healing atmosphere while creating mental and physical challenges that focus on accomplishing psychological and physical independence. I hope to soon be hosting many other groups of underserved communities on similar expeditions.
Brian Kaepplinger and volunteer guides Denali Lawson and Rebecca Detterline assist veteran Rob Schuler.
What makes Estes Park an ideal destination for Oscar Mike Expeditions?
Almost every local that has heard about what we are doing has jumped at the opportunity to help out. These expeditions wouldn't be possible without Estes Park’s strong sense of community. Businesses and people that went above and beyond for us were: The Quality Inn, Estes Park Mountain Shop, Scots Sporting Goods, The Rock Inn, Heathen Creek Outfitters, Mangia Mangia Pizza, WesTex BBQ, Eds Cantina, Mountain Shadows Resort, Jacob Bishop, Rebecca Detterline, Cheryl Sarnwick, Visit Estes Park, John Berry, Julian Garrett at Mountain Vibes Media, Denali Lawson, Tom and Julie Kammer, John Humbrecht, Garry Kaepplinger, Jessie Durham, Kevin Wilson, First Nation Group, and many more folks that reached out only for me to say that we didn't have any room on the bus! Rocky Mountain National Park is perfect as well. Since people have been coming to our beautiful mountains some have been able to utilize the locations of Estes Park and neighboring RMNP as important partners in wilderness therapy, and healthy living. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great location because of its commitment to accessibility.
Members of a recent Oscar Mike Expedition
Oscar Mike Expeditions presents an incredible opportunity for veterans with disabilities to experience the outdoors and to do things they otherwise wouldn't be able to do at home. In your experience with these expeditions, have you noticed a lift in the participant's spirits?
I know that what we are doing is making a huge impact. Not only has the feedback been emotional and positive on these Oscar Mike expeditions, but on every single tour through these mountains that we love, the feedback has been incredible.
Service dogs are welcome
How does it feel to bring this experience to these veterans?
Helping people in need feel better than anything else in my life. In all of my guiding experience here in Estes Park, the best days have been with people who seem to need a mountain experience. The value of helping others is what fuels all of KEP Expeditions problem solving, and we are committed to “everybody anywhere”
Veteran Christopher Muccino forges ahead on the trail during a recent Oscar Mike Expedition
What does "KEP" mean?
In 1869 the great expeditionary, Major John Wesley Powell, led the legendary first descent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The previous year, Powell became the first man to climb Colorado’s most impressive mountain, Longs Peak. He completed both trips with only one arm, having lost the other during the Civil War.
Lewis “Kep” Keplinger was the man who guided Powell to the top of the gigantic mountain featured on Colorado’s state quarter. KEP Expeditions embodies the legendary Lewis Keplinger’s spirit of advanced mountain guiding.
Where do you see KEP Expeditions in the future?
We are in the application phase for becoming a “social enterprise” meaning that our business will work with the 501c3 (KEP Expeditions Foundation). This not-for-profit will provide the ways and means for people with disabilities to enjoy these mountains and their benefits. With the start-up of the KEP Expeditions Foundation, we will work to achieve donations and volunteers to fund adaptive hiking, fly-fishing, and camping program right here in Estes Park.
What other adaptive adventures are you part of?
The best thing I do is volunteer as an adaptive ski instructor. Ignite adaptive sports out of Eldora is my favorite, and all skiers in Estes should consider volunteering with Ignite. Visit www.igniteadaptivesports.com to learn more about the program that continues to change my life for the better.