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Asia, Nepal, Khumbu Himal, Everest, First Ascent by a Blind Person

Everest, first ascent by a blind person. The most remarkable of all the summiteers in the spring was the 32-year-old totally sightless American climber, Erik Weihenmayer. On his return to Kathmandu he said “I spent two and a half months getting there from my arrival at base camp. You work so hard and so long to get there but I just took it day by day. And when I took the last step to the top, it was almost an anticlimax.” Weihenmayer was among the 26 successful men and women who reached the summit on May 25, the last day of the season on which anyone reached the top.

A major problem during his climb was the notorious network of crevasses in the Khumbu Icefall. He said it took him a long time to get accustomed to jumping them. He managed to cope because he received guidance from a team-mate who placed Weihenmayer’s foot at one edge. Then, in order to judge the distance he had to jump, Weihenmayer probed the other lip with ski poles. Once, he came to a crevasse unexpectedly and in his surprise put a leg down it. His torso landed safely on the far side and he sustained no injury.

A retinal disease made Weihenmayer sightless when he was 13. Before attempting Everest he had considerable climbing experience, which included Aconcagua, McKinley, and El Capitan. Before going into the Everest region, he said in Kathmandu that he was “confident about how I perform in the mountains. The reason I do it is probably the same as that of anyone else. I probably have to put in more effort but for me it is still the same adventure and excitement. I get a lot of pleasure out of the wind and sun on my face and the feeling of rock under my feet; the same kind of pleasure that others get out of the view.”

However, there were other climbers on Everest who expected a disaster. One of them callously remarked that he planned to stay near Weihenmayer so that he would be “the first to take a picture of the dead blind guy.” However, there was no picture to be taken. Guided by a bell on the rucksack of a team-mate ahead of him and by his own feeling and probing, Weihenmayer, with three team-mates and at least one Sherpa, arrived at the top of the World at 10:05 a.m. on May 25 and descended safely over the next few days.

Elizabeth Hawley