It was April 2007. Serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, Hoffmeister, then 37 years old, was riding in an Army Humvee. The troops were on patrol outside Al Hillah when an IED tore their vehicle to shreds. “I knew I was badly hurt,” Hoffmeister says today. “I was staring through a large hole in my left arm. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t hear.” Hoffmeister was evacuated to a hospital in Germany, then sent on a 29-hour “hell flight” home. Eight surgeries on his arm followed, and months of pain-racked convalescence. Then the depression set in. Though back in his hometown of Eagle River, Alaska, Hoffmeister felt completely at loose ends. “I was just on the couch, doing nothing,” he says.
Then in early 2008 his wife, Gayle, announced that she was going to climb Denali, with or without her husband. “I said, ‘Not without me, you aren’t!’” Hoffmeister recalls. In the weeks that followed, his sense of purpose returned. “I figured that if I’m sitting here dealing with this hardship, there must be others doing the same thing,” he says. “I wanted to find them and get over it together.”