A local U.S. Airman has nearly completed the climb of his life – all the way to the top of Mount Everest.
About 50 days ago, Santee-based GPS Operations Mission Commander Capt. Colin Merrin set out to scale Mount Everest as part of a U.S. Air Force team hoping to become the first group ever of active-duty U.S. military to reach the top of the world’s highest mountain.
Capt. Merrin's parents say their son isn’t making the climb to show off his athletic and mental prowess, but rather to honor friends and comrades who’ve died while serving the U.S
According to Capt. Merrin’s family, the group should reach the peak – at a staggering elevation of 29,029 feet – either Sunday or Monday. On Friday, his family told NBC 7 the group was currently at camp, about 25,000 feet up the mountain.
Since 2005, the group, known as the USAF Seven Summits Challenge team, has climbed peaks all over the world including Mt. Elbrus, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt.McKinley, Mt. Vinson, Mt. Kosciuszko and now, Mt. Everest.
The team’s website lists the group’s mission as this:
“For U.S. Air Force members to carry the American and USAF flags to the highest point on each continent, ending atop the highest point on Earth. In doing so, we will be the first team of active duty American military members to reach the summit of Mt. Everest and the first team of military service members from any nation to reach all of the famed seven summits.”
Capt. Merrin’s biography on the team’s website says his biggest takeaway from climbing is that “existing in the mountains instills a humility found nowhere else in the world.”
His family -- father Joel Merrin, mother Pamela Merrin and brother Ian Merrin – live in Santee and told NBC 7 they’re extremely proud of Capt. Merrin’s Everest endeavor.
His father says his son and the Air Force team have been doing well thus far on their journey, steadily making their way up the mountain.
"Mount Everest is a very dangerous mountain. A lot of people died up there, so if the weather is good and they're all in pretty good physical condition, there really shouldn't be any problem," Joel told NBC 7.
His brother, Ian, says he looks forward to speaking to his sibling as he gets higher and higher up the peak.
"You can tell his altitude [when we talk on the phone], he's short of breath. I just want to know how everything's going,” Ian told NBC 7.
The family says they’ve been communicating with Capt. Merrin throughout the climb to make sure the guy they describe as “soft and gentle” is still going strong in the Himalayas.
“As long as he was at base camp it was fine, but then as he started progressing up the mountain it got a little more nerve-racking,” his mother, Pam, told NBC 7.
Earlier this week Capt. Merrin called Pam to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day.
“Hey, Mom, it’s Colin. It’s like 7:45 or 6:45 or something, you're probably not up yet, but I just wanted to call and say Happy Mother's Day and I love you. Everything's still going well up here," he said in his voicemail.
Once he makes it to the top of Mount Everest with his team, it will be a major relief for his family.
But it won’t be over just yet.
Capt. Merrin's family says waiting for him to get back down the world’s highest peak will be just as nerve-racking, but they have total confidence in him and the USAF Seven Summits Challenge team.