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 Gary Guller: This is his Q&A, Part one

When a climbing accident left mountaineer Gary Guller without the use of his left arm, his hopes of ever climbing again were shattered. But in Spring 2001, Gary's biggest dream was attempted. He will traveled to Nepal's Himalaya to attempt to summit the world's highest mountain.

Gary began rock climbing in the southeast in his early teens and quickly moved on to other mountain ranges throughout the US. He soon set his sites on the bigger mountains of the world. In 1986, while Gary and two close friends were climbing, all three plummeted down a hard icy face more than 1,500 feet. A rescue team found the group three days later. His good friend Jerry had died; Gary and Dave were evacuated to hospitals in the US.

Gary's neck was broken and the nerve roots going to his left arm were pulled out of the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis of his left arm and shoulder. In the two years following the accident, he was experiencing intolerable pain and was on heavy medication. Gary underwent surgery to repair his broken neck (successful!) and highly risky surgery to alleviate the chronic nerve pain (Duke University - successful!). He also had experimental surgery at Duke performed by Dr. Alan Friedman to regain partial movement of his arm. Unfortunately, this operation was not successful and Gary made the difficult decision to have his paralyzed left arm amputated. 

Over the past years Gary has resumed his outdoor pursuits, climbing in Europe and South America and in 1997, attempting Nepal's Lhotse, the 4th highest mountain in the world. Since 1997, he has spent the majority of time in Nepal and Tibet, trekking and climbing throughout the high Himalaya. He and his wife Joni met in Nepal.

In climbing Mt. Everest, Gary wanted to raise awareness and support for the potential of people with disabilities and to show that life and dreams continue. The expedition was called Everest Expedition 2001 "Anything is Possible". 

This is part one of his Q&A with questions from readers of EverestNews.com. Submit your questions to everestnews2004@adelphia.net 

Question: A stupid question, but here it is. How can you climb with one arm ? I mean, how do you do it?

Gary: The answer that comes immediately to mind is that I am fully aware of my own limits and capabilities. Therefore, I do not put myself in situations that are too dangerous for me and, most importantly, for my friends or other climbers on the hill. Certainly, I push myself as far as possible most of the time, but I do so without being just plain stupid or irresponsible.  Also, I've fully accepted that my vertical or very steep rock and ice climbing days are mostly over, but to me there is so much more to it than this.  Just being in the mountains climbing, trekking and just hanging out with good friends, outside and in the hills, is what I enjoy most!

Question: I noticed in Mike Trueman's dispatches last Spring, he was saying the some Sherpas men are being overused and put in dangerous conditions on the mountain. Strong statements, without names (don't want to get you into trouble), can you tell us more?

Gary: I know most people will agree totally with Mike on this subject. Some Sherpa are being overused and put in dangerous situations unnecessarily. Saying this though, there are some really good expedition outfitters here in the USA and abroad that treat their Sherpas with the same respect as their clients. There are also many independent climbers that hire Sherpas privately that all treat them equally well. Most all the time, the sherpas are on the front line, breaking trail and establishing the routes for others to follow.  This, of course, puts them in a more dangerous situation than normal.  But again, the reputable guys and gals, the reputable companies and guides evaluate situations and make sound decisions with the Sherpa with everyone's best interest at heart. Its impossible for climbing, trekking or anything for that matter to be totally risk free; it just wouldn't be the same.

To get back to the question, I really do not have any strong statements, of course I can think of individual situations that I've seen or heard about, but its not for me to be the judge. In the west, we tend to look at human life so very differently  than other cultures. Also, our success is sometimes defined differently than other cultures.  Is true success getting to the summit at all cost, including life, or is success measured on the safety of all concerned and everyone returning to their respective homes safely? Most of the time in our society the answer is the latter, but this is not the case for all.

Question: When Babu died, what was the feeling on the mountain ?

Gary: We felt total sadness of course, when Babu died. Babu is very popular in his own country, as well as on the international stage. His death was unbelievable at first, but surely put the inherent dangers back into perspective. It's just an absolute shame when another good person loses his life. Babu will be missed by all.  We wish all the very best to his family.

Question: I like the fact that you were low key in your dispatches last year, compared to some. Tell us about Everest Base camp compared to other mountains. Meaning how climbers get along, live, etc.

Gary: It's sometimes so very difficult at Everest Base Camp. There so many different personalities from around the world dealing with life at altitudes of 17,000 plus, plus. When you mix differing personalities, high altitude, and Everest together, the cocktail is not always so smooth. I've met some really, really good people, and others that I probably would not have dinner with on a consistent basis, but overall the "gooduns" I've met far outweigh the others. There are just so many more people, climbers, assistants and money at Everest Base camp than the other 8,000m mountains.  I think it is fair to say that overall most everyone gets along, its just not broadcasted near as much as it should be.  Very rarely, you'll hear, "had a great lunch at X's camp, wonderful people" or "I ran into X in the icefall today, great  guy" or "met X for the first time at Camp 01, very tight & very safe looking team" or so on. We are all guilty to some degree of being negative, and there's always room for more positive vibes to be spread around and out.......  But hey, we don't have to be at EBC to do this!  

Question: Maybe one for your wife ! How hard is it on families and love ones when a climber attempts Everest ?

Gary: I think being away is very difficult all the way around for my family. I spend months and months away from my wife, Joni, every year. I have probably been away from her more than we've been together since we got married a few years ago. It's really tough sometimes and because most of my time is spent in Nepal, one has the cultural readjusting to do as well. I know I'm real difficult person to deal with for a few weeks after my returning home. Its learning how to adapt and readapt with each other that takes the work. Very difficult to explain. We only try our best.  We'll be leading some of our treks together and not be apart so much. I feel that most everyone would agree that the big downside to climbing Everest is being away for so long. Not just being away, but being away from the ones that probably assisted you the most with getting there in the first place. Its tough!

Question: What is it like to spend all that time, and then come home without the summit?

Gary: Honestly, it took me a few weeks to get over not making it to the summit. But then I kicked myself in the butt, dusted myself off and thought about the whole experience. There were far more positives than negatives: everyone returned home safely, we had a laugh, I learned a lot, met some really special people. What else can you ask for?

Question: Tell us about Tunc ? He seems like a great guy that everyone loves.

Gary: Tunc is a great guy, no doubt about it.  Determined, talented, focused, very charming and very cute. I think Tunc or "Tunchy" (He'll kill me for calling him this!) is in Chamonix at the moment, climbing hard no doubt. I spent a considerable amount of time with him and we're sure to hear more about him far into the future.  He will no doubt accomplish great things. He loves climbing, the mountains, his wife, his family (I feel like I know them), climbing, and well... climbing. I was so glad to see him as a member of the Ararat Peace climb.

Question: Have you ever considered a clean up expedition to base camp for "normal" people, well somewhat "normal" people, us armchair climbers?

Gary: Yes, I have. Please call me or e-mail me to discuss this further. Normal? There are no normal or somewhat normal people that go to base camp! ha! Seriously though, please contact me. 

Question: What is next for Gary ? Will you try again in 2002 ?

Gary: I will be doing something that pertains to Everest next Spring; I'll keep you posted. I'm finalizing the details at the moment, and hopefully in the next week or so plans will be completed.  Then I'll know exactly what I'm doing.

Question: How can someone like me be part of your expedition ?

Gary: First of all you would need to contact me. We can see if we're the right fit for you and you for us. If we're not, I'll happily point you in the right direction to other outfitters that may be better suited for you. A lot of this depends on previous experience, personal requirements, your needs and expectations. Give me a call, let me know what you're interested in and we can go from there.... Gary

Q&A Part Two >>>>>

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