Nathan Perrault has seen enough death to last a dozen lifetimes.
A former Marine corporal, he lost several buddies in battle while serving in the infantry in Afghanistan. Then, after coming to CSU to study in the Warner College of Natural Resources, he lost good friend and fellow CSU student Corey Stewart in a climbing accident in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2013.
It’s difficult for him to contain his emotions when he talks about the incidents.
“Losing Corey really affected me,” Perrault says. “A similar thing happened to me in Afghanistan; I lost a good friend who was right next to me. That’s why I like getting out in nature whenever I can. That’s my getaway from regular life.”
Calling Perrault an avid outdoorsman would be an understatement as tall as a Colorado 14er. He rock climbs. He ice climbs. He whitewater rafts. He hikes. He summits very tall mountains. He mountain bikes.
“My mom backpacked the Appalachian Trail when she was younger, so spending time in the outdoors was a big part of our family life,” says the Maryland native. “I had never heard of Fort Collins when I first moved out here, but I love it. I dove headfirst to ice climbing, rock climbing and mountaineering, and I get outdoors whenever I have the chance.”
Colorado’s mountains not only provided a great test of his outdoor skills, they offered a respite from the haunting memories of experiences in Afghanistan. That’s when it struck him: If he felt a sense of calm while climbing a 14er or scaling an ice wall, wouldn’t other veterans reap the same benefit?
That’s when he discovered Veterans Expeditions, a nonprofit started by veterans to help their fellow veterans get away on challenging outdoor adventures. Perrault started working with Nick Watson, a former Army Ranger who is the co-founder and executive director of Veterans Expeditions, and was immediately hooked.
Last May, Perrault, 26, was part of an eight-man team that summited Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska, North America’s tallest peak at 20,301 feet. The climb required amazing planning and patience – the team was stalled for 16 days at 14,000 feet, waiting out a dangerous storm – but they finally reached their goal on the 27th day.
“It was a long, long wait, but we were rewarded with a perfect day to summit,” Perrault says. “It was a great relief but also an amazing experience.”
Perrault, who has spent the spring semester as an intern for Veterans Expeditions, is set to graduate with a degree in recreation and tourism. He has been involved with New Start, CSU’s groundbreaking program designed to help veterans achieve success in college and beyond, and volunteered with Larimer County Search and Rescue.
He plans to become an EMT and, eventually, a ranger with Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the National Park Service.
“Nathan is a terrific student and has great character,” says Brett Bruyere, associate professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. “He’s really trying to help this nonprofit (Veterans Expeditions) get off the ground, and I want to support any student who shows that kind of ambition and entrepreneurism. I like people who think outside the box, and in his case he wants to take his love for nature and use it for a very profound social benefit. He’s used the mountains as a way to recover, and now he’s trying to share that love to help others. I find that very impressive.”