Cops On Top, an organization dedicated to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the line of duty protecting others, recently completed its annual Summit for Heroes memorial climb.
Made up of volunteers from the law enforcement and public service communities, teams from across the country set out the last Saturday in June to climb to their state’s highest point in honor of law enforcement officers or soldiers who have been killed in the line of duty.
Nevada’s Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Erik Wallitner, 42, is in his 10th year on the force and has summited Boundary Peak 14 times in various law enforcement hikes.
“The same rock pile year after year,” Wallitner laughed. “People think I am crazy but it is a worthy cause.”
Boundary Peak is inside the Nevada border near California. Wallitner’s group drove up to 9,000 feet and camped over night. Saturday morning they began to hike up a 4,000-foot switchback gain of altitude to the peak, a roughly eight-hour round trip excursion.
This year the cause took a more Alaskan feel. Wallitner’s wife Kristen is from Gustavus, where her parents Bruce and Karla Tedtsen used to own the Bear Tracks Mercantile store.
That partiality towards Southeast Alaska enticed him to include photos and agency patches of slain Hoonah officers Anthony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka on the hike.
“I feel obligated and honored to do that,” Wallitner said. “It doesn’t matter if you come from a large department of thousands or a small department of a few, fallen heroes have to be and should be remembered.”
Wallitner’s group included Peoria Police Department Officers Paul Hermans and Matt Trujillo and Incline Constables Officer Hans Keller.
More than 700 participants signed up this year to climb. Each state team had a dedicated telephone number to call when they reached their high point. They then take a group photo with flags and other remembrances.
Alaska’s climbing group Glacier Boyz with Cops on Top supporter Alec Turner and COT member Michel Caron summited the highest peak, 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley, a week early due to the short climbing season.
Florida featured the smallest peak, 345-foot Lakewood Park, which was summited by Trooper Paul Vermillion of the Florida State Police Auxilliary and citizen Tracey Vermillion.
The largest contingent of climbers was s the more than 150-member strong Texas team that took on 8,749-foot Guadalupe Peak. Climbing teams took on peaks in all states save four.
Money received by the various teams this year was donated to Concerns Of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), an organization that helps victims’ families and coworkers.
Capt. Keith McPheeters of the Farmington (N.M.) Police Department founded Cops On Top after a 1998 search for the killers of Cortez, Colo. police officer Dale Claxton.
That manhunt in treacherous terrain in the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona was the largest of its kind and caused McPheeters to pause for considerable reflection about the effect Claxton’s death would have on his survivors.
Cops on Top also does an annual 9/11 Memorial Remembrance hike to another high point.
Beginning in January 2012, Cops on Top will begin the Aconcagua Memorial Expedition to the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere and the highest mountain outside the Himalayan Mountain Range in Asia. Located in Argentina, Cops on Top successfully climbed the 22,841-foot peak in 2005 and 2009.
In May 2011, five Army Rangers stationed in Washington state summited Mount McKinley just in time to for the Memorial Day weekend. The Rangers — part of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s 2nd Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord — made the climb in honor of the 11 Rangers from their regiment who have died in the line of duty. At McKinley’s summit, the soldiers planted a flag with the names of the 11.
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.