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Featured Everest Expedition: Team Everest '03
Reports


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.

"Communications have 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 endeavor.’’

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 tent standing.

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.’’

Gary Guller, veteran expedition leader, Everest climber, author and motivational speaker. To book Gary

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