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 Autumn Everest 2001: The American-Canadian Expedition

"This isn't about (me),'' Hommer told the Duluth News Tribune in March. "This is about the capabilities of the human spirit and what any of us can accomplish.''
Ed Hommer

Dispatch 1: The Expedition Begins! August 9, 2001 Minneapolis, MN

Today the American-Canadian Expedition left Minnesota for Kathmandu, Nepal. From there, we’ll travel by truck on a weeklong journey through Tibet to the base of Mt. Everest.

From base camp it will take us about 50 days of intensive climbing and altitude acclimatization to reach the 29,000-foot summit of Mt. Everest. We’re going to take the steep Great Couloir route on the mountain’s north side, not the more traveled South Col route.

I have the utmost respect for this mountain. The mountain decides who succeeds and who fails, who stays and who goes home.

Although I lost my feet and lower legs to frostbite in a plane crash almost 20 years ago on Mt. McKinley in Alaska, I knew I would always return to climbing. I love climbing. So, I decided to pursue it to the best of my ability and become an even better climber. Two years ago, I became the first double-amputee to scale Mt. McKinley — the highest peak in North America.

My motivation to organize the expedition sprang from a desire to push the limits of what is possible as an amputee. I wanted to provide a testimony for people who find themselves up against hardship in their lives. I wanted to show them that they can still reach for the highest goals. They may not always be successful, but they’ve made the decision to go for it, to make the attempt. It’s about courage.

I hope to help others with my new nonprofit foundation, High Exposure. This venture will raise funds to help provide prostheses for amputees in Nepal and the U.S.


Dispatch 2: Greetings from Kathmandu! August 13, 2001 Kathmandu, Nepal

The expedition arrived here in Kathmandu at 7:30 p.m. on the August 11 after about two days of travel with a one-night stopover in Hong Kong. There were some travel problems and moments of confusion, but we all arrived together with all of our bags. We certainly take that as a positive sign for this expedition.

As always, when returning to Nepal, our senses are pretty much overwhelmed by the many wonderful sights and sounds and the bustle of activity in the streets. Just going for a ride in a taxicab through the streets of this fascinating place is indeed an adventure in its own right.

Yesterday and today the team prepared for our departure to the Tibetan border on August 15. Tomorrow will be equally busy as we take care of last minute details. We hope to have our satellite communication system and our computer up and running in the morning. As soon as that is accomplished we will begin transmitting photos from here in Nepal and as we travel through Tibet enroute to the Everest basecamp.

I have to say that spirits are high with anticipation of what lies before us on this expedition. Initial reports, although not yet confirmed, are that there will only be one other expedition climbing on the Tibetan side of the mountain. It seems that we’ll be able to sort of bask in the solitude of this great mountain.

I think I speak for the whole team when I say that we still find it a little hard to believe that we’re here and we’ll be enroute one day from now to the north face of Mt. Everest. It seems like only a veiled dream 14 months ago when the first planning stages began to make this climb a reality. Just getting here has certainly been one of the greatest challenges of my life.

The fact that we are here is owed to the overwhelming generosity of our wonderful sponsors. For me personally, that support has fulfilled a lifelong dream —a dream that I thought was forever dashed when I became a double amputee 20 years ago. The fact that I am here and about to embark upon the greatest climb of my life —and will realize my dream —leaves me at a complete loss of words to express my thanks and gratitude for all of the people who have made this happen for me.

Not only shall I climb upon the heights of Everest, I will do it with a man who fostered countless dreams of high and beautiful places in my mind as a young man many, many years ago because of his chronicled exploits. To go to Mt. Everest is one thing. To experience this mountain with the seasoned leadership of Jim Wickwire is just as good as it can be. I believe the entire team echoes my thoughts.

Well, I’ll close for now. We all send our love and greetings to our supportive family and friends. Again, we hope to begin transmitting photos to accompany our dispatches within the next couple of days. Good night from Kathmandu and we’ll be checking in again soon. Thanks everybody.


Dispatch 3: Crossing the Border Nyalam, Tibet

We crossed the border yesterday afternoon and spent last night in Zhangmu. Now we're in the village of Nyalam.

During the journey from Kathmandu to the border, we experienced about a four-hour delay due to a mudslide that blocked the road. It was eventually cleared.

We also stopped at the Scheer Memorial Hospital where the team and I met with a Nepali doctor. This is the hospital where we hope to open the first prosthetic clinic in Nepal. It was a great meeting and further intensified my desire to see this prosthetic clinic become a reality —and start providing limbs for the people of Nepal.

Equally as excited about the prospect of this clinic is my prosthetist of 18 years, Tom Halvorson. Tom works for Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, one of the major sponsors of this expedition. Those who know me also know that I call Tom the “magic man,” not only for what he has done for me but for the quality of life he has returned to others as well.

The border crossing went well with only a few complications that were quickly settled. As you might imagine, getting 10 people and 5,000 pounds of gear into a new country takes time and lots of patience.

Our ride today from Zhangmu, elevation 7,400 feet, to Nyalam, elevation 12,200 feet, took about two and a half hours and provided us with spectacular views. Sometimes they were a little too spectacular. There's something awe-inspiring about being on a rutted narrow dirt road just two feet from the edge of a 2,000 foot drop. It felt instead like I was in the cockpit of an American Airlines MD-80 asking the captain if we were to be fed on this flight.

We will spend today and tomorrow here in Nyalam in order to acclimatize.


Dispatch 4: Dreaming of Spam August 18, 2001 Tingri, Tibet

We arrived in Tingri today after a four-hour drive from Nyalam. Tingri is at an elevation of 14,300 ft. We spent yesterday doing a short acclimatization climb out of Nyalam. We did it in two groups going to about 13,700 feet. Everybody is feeling well and feeling strong.

The drive from Nyalam took us through some of the most desolate yet beautiful landscape that I have ever seen. The euphoria of these views, however, was tempered by the impoverished existence that the Tibetan people live. To have to refuse the many children who beg for food strikes the heart in a hard way.

Our accommodations along the road here have led to many of us having a few flea and bed-bug bites — a small price to pay to travel this region of the planet. Another affliction in the group is shaved heads. We’re not saying who, but some of you at home will be surprised when we return.

Tomorrow we will spend all day here to acclimatize before leaving for basecamp early on the morning of the 20th.

The local food has been good overall, but tonight at dinner some of us were saying how much we looked forward to getting into base camp and having a fried Spam sandwich on chapatti with mustard and Velveeta cheese.

We have been informed by our liaison that the road into basecamp is quite bad, and the trip will take seven or eight hours to travel the approximately 70 miles.

Providing the weather is good, we will get some great views from the high pass along the route, which is over 17,000 ft high. As I said, we do have the capabilities to transmit photos during the climb but have not yet had the time to do so. We hope to give it a try tonight. Jim Sturgis and Karl Swanson are fine-tuning a few more items on this system to make it’s use more efficient and user friendly.

Once we are in basecamp and can set the system up inside of a communications tent, we will get more photos out on a regular basis.

I am sure many folks are curious about how my legs are working out. The answer is: very good overall. I traveled here with three sets of my Hangar legs for various conditions. Tom Halvorson and I have been working a little each day, trying various combinations of legs and inner liners. We are seeking optimum performance, as nothing less will get this job done.

As it is 23:45 hours here in Tibet, which is 10:40 central time, I’ll close for now. Best wishes from Tibet.


The American-Canadian Expedition: The Team

Background on the Expedition

<<<< Dispatches >>>>

Dispatch Index

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