Everest climbers head
home: 30-day trek becomes a voyage of self-discovery By LEE HANCOCK /
The Dallas Morning News
KATMANDU, Nepal – Team
Everest 03 ended its odyssey to Mount Everest on Monday, heading home
after a 30-day trip that captured world attention.
"The fact that those of
you have done this is extremely important and extremely impressive. It
sends a message to the world," Robert Bozzs, the second-ranking diplomat
at the U.S. Embassy in Katmandu told the team of people with
disabilities and their supporters in an emotional reception after their
23-day trek to the highest mountain on earth. "It tells not only about
perseverance, but about character and courage in the face of danger."
Most of the team flew
from Katmandu early Monday morning, two days after their return from the
Himalayas. They are scheduled to be back in the United States on Tuesday
As they left, many said
they were just starting to grasp how profoundly their journey has
altered their perceptions of themselves and their capabilities.
"I know I can handle
tough challenges now. Before, there was a side of me that wasn't sure,"
said Dinesh Ranasinghe, 26, of San Antonio, one of seven trek members
with disabilities who made it to Mount Everest's base camp.
"Now, if I can only
convince one other person, one other kid to get up off the couch, to go
do something," said Mr. Ranasinghe, who has used a prosthetic since his
leg was amputated above the knee at age 10 because of cancer. "I was
that couch potato a couple of years ago. Now, I know the possibilities
The group arrived in
Nepal on March 17 and trekked for 17 days to Mount Everest, reaching
base camp at 17,600 feet on April 6. Their trip, organized by the
Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, was aimed at challenging
stereotypes about the limits and potential of people who live with
In the next month, trek
leader Gary Guller of Austin will try to reach the summit along with a
team of three other U.S. and Canadian climbers. If successful, he would
be the first person with one arm to stand atop Everest.
Mr. Guller, 10 other
Americans and two Nepali Sherpas with disabilities ranging from deafness
to paralysis and chronic pain began the trek, and he and seven of those
made it to base camp – a marked contrast to the one in 10 trekkers who
usually complete the trip.
Climber Chris Watkins,
43, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, who was forced to abandon the trek when his
life-threatening high-altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral edema were
diagnosed, said Monday that he will try to return to the mountain this
week with Mr. Guller and his summit teammates. Several physicians,
including the team's doctor, have advised him that he could not safely
climb at high altitude for a year.
The team flew to
Katmandu, where they reveled in showers, flush toilets and other
comforts after weeks of living in tents and frigid temperatures. They
fanned out to shop and explore the ancient city, and even those in
wheelchairs negotiated its gritty, traffic-clogged streets with aplomb
after their travels in one of world's most inaccessible regions.
Many were already
planning what to do next. Matt Standridge, 24, a paraplegic from San
Angelo, outfitted himself with Nepalese sleeping bags, a pack and other
"We made the impossible
possible. We did what we came to do, and I've got a whole new outlook
now," he said, adding that he is also already making plans with other
team members to enter a road race, play wheelchair rugby and take a
kayaking trip. "The activities I'm going to start doing, the way I look
at life – it just makes you want to live your life to its fullest – go
out and do everything you possibly can."
He and Riley Woods, 28,
a paraplegic from Waco, learned in calls home that their families have
gotten a stream of requests for them to speak to schools and other
groups about their experience.
They did their first
talk in Katmandu, going to visit 10 patients at a local spinal injury
Mr. Woods said it was
an emotional and fitting end for their stay in Nepal. The clinic's
medical director "wanted us to talk to them, to inspire them, and tell
them they don't have to give up. Life isn't over," he said. "That's the
whole point of this trip: don't let your disability get in your way.
Instead of focusing on your disability focus on your abilities."
Namaste from Gary
Guller in Kathmandu, Nepal (4,264ft)!: On April 6, history was made
when the Team Everest '03 Challenge Trek Team ascended to an
altitude higher than any point in the Rockies, becoming the largest
cross disability group to ever reach Everest Base Camp. To fill you
in on the last few days, we woke on our last day at Mt. Everest Base
Camp to an absolutely beautiful morning at over 17,000ft, still in
awe of having finally made this dream a reality! Everyone's spirits
were in true Team Everest '03 form - upbeat and energetic. All of
your well-wishes have been an extremely important part of the team's
success and we have felt each and everyone of you with us there.
The high altitude
climbing Sherpa had suggested that all Challenge Trek members have
the opportunity to do some ice climbing on a safe area of the
glacier below the Khumbu Ice Fall. Of course, I totally agreed. So
the Sherpa showed up at 7:30am that day with all the necessary
climbing gear - crampons, ropes, extra glasses, etc. We climbed and
strolled into the glacier where the Sherpa had fixed the safety
ropes onto short ice falls. Each face was approximately 20 meters
high, giving everyone great insight into what climbing in the Nepal
Himalaya is all about. Everyone - both those using and not using
wheelchairs - used the harness, ascenders and figure eight to climb
and rappel up the ice faces, while their fellow team members
cheered them on, pushing the boundaries yet again, and giving us all
an enormous sense of accomplishment.
Climbing at these
altitudes is hard for anyone, but imagine the sheer strength and
determination required when a person is paralyzed from the waist
down. Strength comes from within at this point, and every member of
this expedition has shown that special burning desire to succeed. This
is something we can all draw energy from in every aspect of our
lives, whether it's walking to the store instead of driving the car,
being nicer to your neighbor, volunteering, or just stepping out of
your normal life for a moment to do something different, physically or
Next day, we trekked
down from Base Camp to Pheriche and on Friday, flew by helicopter back
to Kathmandu. We had a couple of fun, full days in Kathmandu and the
Challenge Trek team departed early this morning for home via Bangkok,
Taipei and LA.
A special note: We are
lucky to have Christine Kane staying on as Base Camp manager for the
duration of our climb - she'll be keeping things at Base Camp in good
order and our dispatches going out so we can focus completely on the
enormous task ahead of us - climbing Everest. We'll be leaving
Kathmandu and heading back up to Base Camp early tomorrow morning, and
begin our climb soon after. Camps 1 and 2 have already been
A quick hello to all the
students around the world who have been following the Challenge Trek
team's progress to Base Camp. And to two schools in particular - one
in Texas and one in Latvia: My good friend Chris Godwin and all of
our supporters in Dripping Springs - Thank you and we'll be in touch
soon; and Mrs. Tupesis and the 2nd grade class in Riga, Latvia - We
thank you for your support and we will be contacting you again from
And to our sponsors:
Special thanks to Paul Carrozza and the entire RunTex team; to my
good friends Marv and Mary Weidner and all the folks at Weidner
Consulting; to GSD&M, a company that rocks the marketing
world; to our supporter and good friend Dan Steinborn and his team
at PrintGlobe; and for the entire Presco team, your flags are at
Camps 1 and 2, high on Mt. Everest, and all of the equipment and
gear you supplied are already being put to use. Photos on the way!
Our Summit Team is preparing to make history again by carrying the
message to the top of the world: the potential of people with
disabilities is unlimited. We very much need your continued support
to get there. Together we will get there.
Thank you again for your support and prayers. Gary