Year of the Pathfinder: British wounded warrior ascends the Matterhorn

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

A veteran British Army infantry commander, ascended one of the tallest and most dangerous mountains in Switzerland, Aug. 6, 2020, in 4.16 hours, with a total duration of 9.16 hours.

Ray Hoogendijk, 423rd Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation (ODR) director at RAF Molesworth, England, joined six other wounded veterans to climb the Matterhorn mountain in the Alps.

“The climb was a team effort of military veterans,” said Hoogendijk. “It was about belonging to something bigger than the individual and feeling part of a team of likeminded and capable people.”

The trip was organized by Climb2Recovery, a U.K. charity focused on supporting the physical and mental recovery of wounded veterans through rock climbing. The purpose of the climb was to support Army veteran Neil Heritage, who made history as the first double amputee to climb the Matterhorn summit, and to raise awareness about the Climb2Recovery’s mission.

Hoogendijk’s military experience has inspired him to climb ahead of the challenges he has faced in life.

"Home for me is the UK, but I was born in the Netherlands, hence the ridiculous surname,” said Hoogendijk. “I joined the British Army at 17 years old and had to grow up fast. I have lived in Afghanistan, Africa, and all over Asia, and saw several long and difficult operational tours which really instilled upon me a sense of not only discipline but real gritty adventure.

I was medically discharged from the Army due to sustaining life changing injuries. I have since undergone an extremely successful and ongoing recovery process, involving working with charities which specialize in providing opportunities and recovery-based activities such as sailing and mountaineering.”

The Matterhorn’s 14,692-foot (4,478 m) peak is composed of soft sedimentary rock, making it particularly dangerous. Since the first summit in 1865, more than 500 people have died on its slopes.

“I would have to say that climbing the Matterhorn has been the highlight of my mountaineering career, but it was also one of the most difficult ascents of my life,” said Hoogendijk. “The lack of oxygen and technical aspect of the mountain makes even the hardiest of climbers fail and return before reaching the summit.”

Hoogendijk lives and breathes the outdoors. He organizes ODR trips for members of the 423rd Air Base Squadron. The ODR team hosts frequent outdoor weekend trips across the U.K with activities for all age groups.

“My job is one of the best jobs on the planet!” said Hoogendijk. “I get to design and deliver an amazing program of activities in support of service personnel and their families. ODR aims to contribute to mission readiness and improve morale through the promotion of outdoor recreation, travel and leisure time activities.”

In addition to supporting the Pathfinder community, Hoogendijk has roots in Pathfinder history.

“During World War II my family was heavily involved in the war effort,” said Hoogendijk. “My grandfather’s brother, a pilot in the Royal Airforce, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his bravery during the Pathfinder chapter in history. I am so fiercely proud of his legacy and hope that I may perpetuate his legacy through my hard work and activities.”

Hoogendijk has found climbing keeps him resilient.

“Outdoor recreation is not just a service; we create and deliver life changing experiences,” said Hoogendijk “I hope that the skills I have learnt and the journey I take inspires others to live a life of adventure, a life less ordinary. I am a more rounded and stronger person once I achieve big tasks.”