Austin climber first with
one arm to scale Everest
05/23/2003 By LEE
HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
Austin climber Gary
Guller became the only person with one arm ever to scale Mount Everest
Friday, standing atop its 29,035-foot summit nearly 50 years to the day
after it was first reached.
Mr. Guller arrived at
the peak of the world’s highest mountain at about 12:15 p.m. Nepal time
(2 a.m. Dallas time), just over 17 hours after starting his final push
from a camp at 26,000 feet, his expedition’s base camp manager said in a
brief interview by satellite telephone Friday morning.
been really difficult,’’ said base camp manager Christine Kane, a
teacher at the Texas State School for the Deaf in Austin. ``But we heard
him say, `it’s beautiful up here!’ ’’
The feat caps an
odyssey Mr. Guller began in mid-March by leading a team of 10 Americans
and two Nepalese Sherpa with conditions ranging from lost limbs to
quadriplegia on a grueling trek to Everest to shatter popular
misconceptions about people with disabilities.
Reaching the summit
alongside the 36-year-old Austin man were four Nepalese Sherpa climbers.
"We are all cheering
and celebrating. You can hear people all over base camp yelling "woohoo!’
for us and for Gary,’’ Ms. Kane said.
Mr. Guller, who lost
his left arm in a mountaineering accident in the 1980s, first tried to
climb Mount Everest in 2001 but was turned back when fixed ropes in the
first and deadliest section of the mountain, the Khumbu icefall, were
torn away by an avalanche.
He decided to make a
second bid this year, organizing his Team Everest 03 expedition with the
Coalition for Texans With Disabilities to draw international attention
to the potential of people who live with physical challenges.
Team Everest 03’s
expedition began in mid-March with a 23-day challenge trek, in which
five Americans in wheelchairs, five others with disabilities ranging
from lost limbs to chronic pain conditions, and two Sherpas with lost
limbs climbed with a group of U.S. an Nepalese supporters and helpers to
the foot of Mount Everest.
Several Challenge Trek
members were forced to turn back because of altitude-related ailments
and other problems, but seven people with disabilities made it with Mr.
Guller to Everest’s base camp at 17,600 feet.
Dennis Borel, executive
director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, said early
Friday that Mr. Guller’s accomplishment crowned an effort that drew wide
attention and praise in across the U.S. and Nepal.
"I am so delighted for
him, for all of them, for all us. This is the best thing any Texas group
in any field has done this year,’’ he said. ``His making this last step,
making that summit, will attract a whole new wave of attention to the
message that people with disabilities can be involved in every human
With his climb, Mr.
Guller became the third person with a significant physical disability to
reach the summit. In 1998, Tom Whittaker of Arizona, a leg amputee,
reached the top, and in 2001, Eric Weihenmayer of Colorado became the
first blind Everest summitteer.
George Martin, general
manager for EverestNews.com, an Internet website that has become a
leading source of information on Everest expeditions, said Mr. Guller’s
achievement is "pretty incredible’’ – particularly given the difficulty
of conditions on the mountain this year.
The 50th anniversary of
Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first successful climb to
Everest’s summit has drawn a record number of climbers. Some estimates
have suggested that more than 400 people could try to summit before the
brief window of good spring climbing weather closes in early June with
the arrival of the annual monsoon.
But severe weather –
including days of hurricane-force winds – prevented anyone from reaching
the top until this week, when the first climbers reached the top from
the northern or Tibetan side. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism reported on
Thursday that 35 people reached the summit on Thursday from the southern
route first traveled by Mr. Hillary and Mr. Norgay.
"Given the number of
people on the mountain and the weather, it’s been a hard year to summit.
The window is not wide open. These summits have been in very difficult
conditions. Because of the high winds, you have to expend so much
physical energy,’’ Mr. Martin said.
"It’s an incredible
achievement for a person with this sort of severe disability to do what
Gary has done,’’ he said.
Mr. Martin said Mr.
Guller’s efforts in getting the Texas-based group of disabled people to
Everest’s base camp had "impressed and touched’’ many in the
mountaineering community. He added Mr. Guller’s Friday summit
accomplishment will "probably encourage more people with disabilities to
reach out and attempt to do more.’’
Mr. Guller and his team
had hoped to reach the summit early in this year’s climbing season, well
before the May 29 anniversary of the first climb. But poor weather
conditions repeatedly delayed Team Everest 03's summit try.
At one point, Mr.
Guller and a climbing Sherpa went from base camp to Camp 1 and found
that at least 70 percent of the tents set up there by his and other
expeditions had been flattened or blown away by winds that some reports
said exceeded 100 mph.
In email dispatches and
a phone interview from base camp several weeks ago, Mr. Guller said he
and his Sherpa partner then spent a night being battered by another bout
of extreme winds, each using their bodies to keep their reconstructed
Mr. Guller left base
camp for his final climb up the mountain on May 17, and had originally
hoped to summit by midweek. But he and his team decided to wait for
several days at a camp at 26,000 feet, an altitude so extreme that it is
known as the death zone, because of poor weather conditions and concerns
that too many other climbers were trying to go for the summit.
But on Friday, Ms. Kane
said, the weather at base camp was clear and calm, and conditions higher
up on the mountain appeared to be far better than in previous days.
"We talked to them last
night and they said it was beautiful,’’ she said. "They were feeling
good and raring to go.’’