“Climb to Conquer” is the motto of the Mountain Cold Weather (MCW) Company, established by the United States War Department in August 1947. The War Department saw the uniqueness of Norwich’s location – near mountains with severe winter temperatures – and its mission to train cadets to be officers in the Army.
The first instructor assigned to Norwich was MSG Leslie Hurley, a mountaineer and a member of the famed 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Realizing the need for officers with experience in mountain warfare, MSG Hurley and the Army started the Mountain Cold Weather Company at Norwich. Skills taught to these students included skiing, snowshoeing, wilderness survival, basic and advanced first aid, climbing and mountaineering, day and night land navigation, and cold weather injuries.
In 1960, SFC Don Jennings started the Mountain Cold Weather Rescue Team, the mission of which is to provide Northern New England with a rescue service capable of conducting search and rescue operations at any time of year under any climatic condition. The Rescue Team has gone on to provide this service on many occasions. Northern New England recognizes the MCW Rescue Team as the one to call when no one else can complete the rescue. An important first was accomplished in the fall of 2000 with the certification of 45 company members as National Search and Rescue Association Search and Rescue Technicians II.
Since 1947, Mountain Cold Weather Company has provided an experience that is unique in the landscape of higher education. Affectionately known as “Hilly Chilly,” the Mountain (Hilly) and Cold Weather (Chilly) team advances the skills of mountaineering, ice climbing, orienteering, and hazardous terrain rescue for select Norwich students in the tradition of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
In the early days, the equipment was hardly what one would recognize as modern winter gear, with wooden skis and wool clothing. Although wool has given way to synthetics, and skis are now fashioned from fiberglass or carbon fiber, the lifelong lessons learned in MCW are much the same today as they were 50 years ago. Alumni recall how frigid hikes and nights spent on snowy mountaintops taught them about survival, navigation, and first aid, as well as the leadership skills that are the hallmark of a Norwich education.
Today, the cadets of the MCW specialty unit train three days a week, culminating in a January excursion that tests the skills they have learned. The program receives generous support from the Pritzker Foundation.
Adapted from an article by Curtis Ostler entitled “Climb to Conquer” that appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of the Norwich Record.