Blind Coloradan reaches Everest's top


May 27, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

The National Federation of the Blind had the money, and sightless climber Erik Weihenmayer had the guts. At 1 a.m. EDT Friday, he stood at 29,035 feet, atop Mount Everest, the first blind person to accomplish the feat.

The NFB, headquartered in Baltimore, is planning a welcome-home party for Weihenmayer, one of just 1,000 climbers to conquer Everest, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 19.

Eye disease took Weihenmayer's vision when he was a teen, but it hasn't clouded his "big-V" vision as he sets out each day to smash another stereotype. The world-class climber from Colorado has run marathons, skydived, biked in races, and hung by his fingertips from some of the world's most formidable rock piles.

Those accomplishments were for him. The Everest climb belongs to every blind person.

Weihenmayer and I chatted before he left. I ask about the conflict of not wanting to make a big deal of his blindness vs. the need to show that there are no limitations. The 32-year-old mountaineer agreed; it was a paradox.

"In an ideal world, a blind person could do all sorts of cool stuff, and nobody would think twice about it," he said. "But we're not there yet. Now, a blind person ties his shoes, and people say, `Wow, that's inspiring.'

"Helen Keller is the most famous blind person, and she's been dead 30 years," Weihenmayer said. "A blind person on top of the world is such a powerful image, it shatters the stereotype."

Betsy Zaborowski, director of special programs for NFB says Weihenmayer's schedule already is filling with speaking engagements. He got a taste of what awaits him even before he reached the top.

Hours before breaking camp at 26,000 feet and heading for the summit, Weihenmayer got a phone call from President Bush, according to the Web site

Zaborowski says Weihenmeyer will show video tapes from the ascent and discuss the details.

Another Everest story I can't wait to hear is Chris Warner's account of the rescue mission last week that saved four climbers from certain death. The super-human effort is the highest rescue on Everest's treacherous North Side.

Warner, a Baltimore County resident who owns the Earth Treks' Climbing Center in Columbia, reached the summit last Wednesday and then participated in the two-day struggle against time, weather and exhaustion.

Climbers from another expedition getting ready to attempt to summit abandoned their bid, and Sherpas worked tirelessly and without oxygen to bring the victims down.

The famous rocket scientist Werner van Braun once said catastrophes in his business served as a reminder that "we're not making shoes here."

The same holds true for high-level mountaineering. The near-disaster and the deaths of three climbers this season is a reminder that, IMAX movies aside, Everest remains a dangerous customer.

All four climbers - two from the expedition Warner was on and two Russians - were lowered by ropes and dragged down the mountain after suffering the effects of high altitude.

The rescue reminds me of another great von Braun quote: "I have learned to use the word `impossible' with greatest caution."

Let's hope official Baltimore and official Maryland realize what they have here and roll out the red carpet for Weihenmayer and Warner upon their return.

Susquehanna gap

The old New England saying, "You can't get there from here," also holds true if you're a hiker on the banks of the Susquehanna River. That fact hasn't escaped Bob Chance, executive director of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway.

"You can't get across the Susquehanna," he says from his office atop the Conowingo Dam. "If you try to cross the Conowingo, you're road kill, and if you try to cross on the [Interstate] 95 bridge, you get killed or arrested. That's crazy."

Chance is the point man for "Making a Connection," an opportunity to see how great recreation along both sides of the Susquehanna could be if state and regional officials could find a way to bridge the gap.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday as part of National Trails Day, officials will dedicate the two-mile North Park Trail in Perryville. The ceremony will take place at the Rogers Tavern historic site. Afterward, visitors can stroll the waterfront trail, take a boat to Garrett Island, or hop a bus and cross the U.S. 40 bridge to hook up with the Mason-Dixon Trail in Havre de Grace.

Someday, Chance hopes, the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway will be a network of trails that link Maryland and Pennsylvania and open up the Susquehanna to more people.

To sign up for the free bus trip, call Chance at 410-457-4766 or email him: To learn of other National Trails Day activities, check the American Hiking Society Web site:

Fishin' up a storm

Congratulations to Richard Goddard of Clinton, who took first place in the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association spring tournament last weekend. His rockfish measured 39 3/8 inches.

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