and Namaste from Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet. Just 3 hours away from
the base camp of the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest, we've
been hit by a snow storm and have had to delay our trek to base camp
(hopefully for only a day). I will write to you when we arrive. We
look forward to sharing with you the laughter, joy and tears as we
reach our goal.
For our team
representing folks with varying degrees of disability, reaching
Everest base camp will touch not only our lives, but the lives of
millions of people. Thank you for your support in making this
Playing in the snow
under sunny skies just yesterday
Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News
Signing off for
forced to turn back
Illness forces Austin
man to turn back before reaching base camp
04/05/2003 By LEE
HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
GORAK SHEP, Nepal A
medical condition forced Gene Rodgers, an Austin man whose love of
travel inspired Team Everest 03, to leave the Himalayas for Katmandu on
Friday the day the group had hoped to reach Mount Everest.
Mr. Rodgers, 47, became
ill Thursday night with what team doctor Janis Tupesis described as a
bowel obstruction, a potentially serious twisting of the intestines that
required his hospitalization.
He was evacuated by
helicopter Friday to undergo treatment in Katmandu.
"Things can go wrong
almost any time, and when you're so close to the final prize, it's
particularly tough," Mr. Rodgers said. "But the important thing is to go
out there and follow your dreams. It's important to go out there and
Snow was falling as he
departed for a one-hour trip by doko, or porter-carried basket, to meet
a helicopter at the village of Lobuche.
The difficulty of
takeoffs at high altitude forced the helicopter to make two trips to
pick up Mr. Rodgers, his brother and their gear. It flew Mr. Rodgers to
a medical aid post at Pheriche, about 2,400 feet down the mountains,
before returning for the rest and taking the entire party from Pheriche
Mr. Rodgers is the
third of 10 U.S. team members with disabilities to turn back since the
23-day trek began. An Austin teacher who is deaf left on March 24
because of homesickness, and Kim Smith, a Dorchester, Texas, woman with
fibromyalgia, stopped this week in Dugla after being delayed earlier by
stomach and altitude sickness.
Two Sherpas with
disabilities on the trek, Lapka Dorje Sherpa and Tenzing Sherpa, also
descended Friday because of altitude sickness. They will wait with Mrs.
Smith at Pheriche, where the team will fly by helicopter to Katmandu in
about a week.
The two Sherpas joined
the trek to bring attention to people with disabilities in Nepal.
Lapka Dorje Sherpa made
a pilgrimage before the trek to Lumbini, the Nepali city where the
Buddha was born, to pray for the expedition's success. He and Tenzing
Sherpa said the trek was a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey to honor
the deities whom Sherpas and other Tibetan Buddhists believe reside in
the world's highest mountains.
The team had hoped to
reach base camp Friday but stayed in Gorak Shep because of icy trail
conditions from morning snow showers.
Mr. Rodgers, unable to
move below his neck since a fall from a cliff at 17, was among the first
people to sign up for the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek when it was
announced more than a year ago by a Texas-based disability advocacy
The Texas Coalition for
the Disabled organized the trek to Mount Everest base camp, along with
Austin climber Gary Guller, to shatter stereotypes about capabilities of
people with disabilities. After the trekkers reach Everest, Mr. Guller
and three climbers will try to reach the summit by mid-May. If
successful, Mr. Guller would be the first person with one arm atop the
world's highest peak.
Mr. Rodgers posed a
challenge to organizers, who said they were initially unsure how to
transport someone with such physical limitations on the steep, rocky
But Mr. Rodgers
explained how he trekked in Nepal a decade before in a modified doko
the bamboo basket that porters use to haul goods in the largely roadless
Mr. Guller and Sherpas
working with him began planning to carry anyone with mobility problems
in dokos over rough parts of the trek, and five people who use
wheelchairs including two paraplegics, a quadriplegic with limited use
of his arms and a man born with spina bifida eventually joined the
Mr. Rodgers' brother,
Robert Rodgers of Parma Heights, Ohio, decided to come along to help,
and the two became known for their slapstick banter.
Other team members
using wheelchairs sometimes chafed at being in dokos, but Mr. Rodgers
joked about his transport daily announcing his obligation to "break
trail" for the team and set up high camps for the summit team climbing
When the group arrived
at the Himalayas, Mr. Rodgers was unexpectedly reunited with the Sherpa
guide who led his first Nepali trek. Mr. Rodgers said seeing Tsering
Sherpa was a highlight of the Everest trek, and the Sherpa became his
"If it had ended in the
first few days, it would've all been worthwhile, especially being
reunited with Tsering Sherpa," Mr. Rodgers said Friday.
Tsering Sherpa was
among the Sherpas and porters who accompanied Mr. Rodgers and his
brother, the team doctor, and team co-leader, Gary Scott of Colorado
Springs, Colo., down the trail to Lobuche.
Mr. Rodgers said he was
disappointed at not seeing base camp but happy to have reached 17,000
feet. His last night in the Himalayas was spent where the expedition
that included Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay the first two
men to climb Mount Everest set up its base camp 50 years ago.
"There wasn't any
discussion about not going. We both knew," Mr. Rodgers said after a
sleepless night in which Dr. Tupesis held him for hours as he worried
about the severity of his condition. "This isn't going to stop me,
though. There'll be other places, other times."
Before leaving, he
asked teammates to take a bagel he'd brought from Katz's Deli and Bar in
Austin to photograph at base camp, and an American flag sewn by his
mother for the team's base-camp portrait. He also left a bottle of
Austin-made vodka, which he'd hoped to offer at the group's base-camp
puja or Buddhist ceremony honoring Everest.
Before a porter hoisted
his doko in the pelting snow, Mr. Rodgers asked someone to open his coat
hood so he could see the scenery.
"He wants to take
everything in," his brother said.