Kirstie Ennis, who hails from Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado, first came to prominence when she was hugged by Prince Harry at the end of a 1,000-mile walk around Britain

By Simon Perry
April 15, 2019 03:22 PM

Intrepid former U.S. Marine Kirstie Ennis has begun the climb of her life!

The veteran — who survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2012 that resulted in severe injuries and required more than 40 surgeries — has arrived at Base Camp on her Everest expedition that sees her hoping to be first female above-the-knee amputee to scale the world’s most famous — and highest — mountain.

On Monday, she posted a new photo at Base Camp that showed her practicing ice fall climbs. “Just making sure we’ve got our systems dialed,” she captioned the photo on Instagram. “The boys will be doing a little recce on the ice fall this morning so we can double check everything else!”

After a period of acclimatization hikes in the lower reaches of the mountain in Nepal, she and her team have been slowly progressing these first stages in order to avoid altitude sickness.

Kirstie Ennis at Base Camp
| Credit: Kirstie Ennis/Instagram

“It has sunk in that I am actually going to climb Everest,” Ennis tells PEOPLE. “For the last year and a half, I have talked about making this happen. And now here I am. I try my hardest to do as I say, and say what I mean. This is now the truest testament to that.”

Ennis says she has been experiencing a “twisted kind of excitement,” as she has been daydreaming about dragging her body through an ice fall, “teetering on ladders across traverses.”

“I could nearly feel the pain I was going to put my body through,” she adds. “To motivate myself, I do visualize summiting Everest. But what if that actually happens? We may actually be able to pull this off. I may actually stand on top of the world on one leg.”

Ennis, who hails from Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado, first came to prominence when she was hugged by Prince Harry at the end of a 1,000-mile walk around Britain. She had been severely injured when a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan in 2012, and has been setting herself new targets as she pushes herself to new heights since scaled Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2017. She is a testament to programs like the Endeavour Fund and Harry’s Invictus Games, which inspire former service members to look beyond their injuries.

Ennis is accompanied by a small team including climbing partner Christopher Pollock, a videographer, and carries two different knees and three different feet for the varying terrain. She is hoping to raises money and awareness for her foundation, that provides help for projects that target “education, opportunity, and healing in the outdoors.”

This expedition feels very different from the other mountains she has scaled “because of how hard I have worked for this,” she adds. “It’s also different because of how it’s affected those around me. Because Everest is so well known, and famously dangerous, my friends and family have been very vocal about how they feel. It worries everyone which puts a bizarre sense of guilt over me.”

“This really is a test of everything that I have trained for at this point.”