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Featured Everest Expedition: Team Everest '03

Barry crosses suspension bridge    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsFrom Gary Guller: Greetings from the tiny village of Monjo at 9,300 ft. We are just before the entrance gate of the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. The last few days have been busy getting this expedition team up the hill. Everyone thus far is remaining healthy, happy and very, very positive.

We had a great day today trekking from Phakding along the Dudh Kosi ("Milk River") and crossing suspension bridges over the river. The support and encouragement the team is receiving from the Sherpa, the Nepalis and all the good folks and climbers from around the globe we've encountered on the trail has been incredible. We've strolled, rolled, trekked, carried, pushed, pulled, laughed and cried together as we continue hour after hour, day after day to succeed.

We discussed last night that what we are achieving as a team is huge on so many levels. The entire team - the members, the supporters, the Sherpa, the porters and even the dzopkios (yak + cow) - are showing just how powerful working together as a team can be and what we can achieve.

We are definitely pushing the envelope in so many ways, but all the members of the team know too well that it takes powerful actions to get powerful results. Team Everest '03 is making waves and raising disability awareness to new heights - and not just in altitude! The most important things I know thus far is that the potential of people with The 2 Garys discuss route      Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning Newsdisabilities is truly unlimited and that all people should have the right to explore life to their fullest potential.

Tomorrow is a big day as we head to the Sherpa capital, Namche Bazaar (11,283 ft). Here, we'll take a couple of days for acclimatizing to the increased altitude, exploring the area and enjoying a much deserved rest. You are in our hearts and your support keeps us going. Disability awareness to the top of the world! - Gary

Near Everest, a familiar face / Austin man reunited with Sherpa guide who helped him in '92
By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

PHAKDING, Nepal – For Gene Rodgers, seeing Tsering Sherpa on his first day in the high Himalayas made all the difference. The 47-year-old Austin man, one of 10 Americans with disabilities who are trekking to base camp at Mount Everest, was barely off the plane from Katmandu when he saw the Sherpa man who guided his first visit to Nepal more than 10 years ago.

Mr. Rodgers has little movement below his neck since a fall off a cliff damaged his spinal cord when he was 17.

He rides in a wheelchair, and on his first trek to the remote Himalayan kingdom in 1992, he was carried in a modified bamboo basket (called a doko) by a group of porters led by Tsering Sherpa.

Gene in doko with Tsering Sherpa   Photo by  Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsTsering Sherpa uses his ethnic group's name for his last name, as do all Sherpa people who live in the Khumbu and Solu regions near Everest.

Mr. Rodgers heard last year that the Austin-based Coalition for Texans with Disabilities was organizing a trek to Mount Everest, and signed up immediately. He explained to the group's leader, Austin climber Gary Guller, how he was carried in a doko on his previous trek.

But he said they talked little about logistics over the subsequent nine months before leaving for Nepal, so "I was concerned about how it would go."

The group arrived by plane Thursday to start the journey at Lukla, a village at about 9,000 feet that is the jumping off point for many Western treks through the Everest region.

Mr. Guller is leading 26 people from the United States and Canada. Two Sherpa men with disabilities are accompanying the group.

After the trek ends in mid-April, Mr. Guller and three American and Canadian climbers will continue up the mountain in hopes of reaching the summit. If he succeeds, Mr. Guller will be the first person with one arm to reach the world's highest peak.

After the arrival at Lukla, Sherpa men hired to help with the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek helped carry Mr. Rodgers and four other team members off the plane and up steps to the main village trail.

"As I came through the gate, this Sherpa was pushing, pulling, carrying me. Some of these guys looked familiar to me, some of the guys who had worked for Tsering," Mr. Rodgers said. "We came up here to where the tents were. I look up and see this guy. I said it looks like Tsering. I kept looking at him. I thought maybe I just want it to be him."

Mountain view from trail    Photo by  Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News'A real bonding'

He said his relationship with Tsering Sherpa had been "a real bonding of sorts. These guys, they'll do anything in the world for you. He told me stories. He told me about the culture. He really introduced me to the Sherpa people."

The two men soon were talking and visiting about their last trip. Tsering Sherpa then was assigned to oversee the porters who would carry Mr. Rodgers' doko up the trail. It brought back a flood of memories.

"Some of my fondest memories are of him coming into the teahouses where we stayed and saying, 'Wake up, Geno. Time to see the mountain,' " Mr. Rodgers said.

"It feels really neat to be here anyway, but to see him is a really, really neat way to begin the trip."

Tsering Sherpa helped oversee the weaving of Mr. Rodgers' doko Thursday, and when Mr. Rodgers saw him carrying it around the group's campsite in Lukla, "all the sudden, I was so relieved that he was here. I knew things were going to be all right."

Even before the group began moving down the trail, Mr. Rodgers said, the spectacular vistas of sheer mountains all around and the physical sensation of being at a high altitude had already struck him profoundly.

"When I was here before at the lower elevations, the peaks of the mountains were obscured by the clouds," he said. "There's no photograph in the world that could touch someone like being here can. Being at this elevation, the air tastes better. Everything feels different."

On Friday, he said, he was even more moved by the efforts of Tsering Sherpa and his porters as they hiked about five hours into a valley of settlements beside the Dudh Kosi River before the trekking group arrived in its camp in the village of Phakding.

"When you're on the trail, we might be on the edge of a cliff. But these guys have absolutely no fear whatsoever," he said. "These guys are like supermen."

Several porters took turns carrying Mr. Rodgers through the day, and Tsering Sherpa walked nearby, "watching everything and watching me at the same time. They know everything that's going on."

Only two days into the weeks-long trek, Mr. Rodgers said, he knows that his time with Tsering Sherpa and the chance to revisit the Sherpa culture will be among his most treasured experiences.

Helping hands

"Just from observation, knowing little about the culture, it seems to me that the Sherpa life is built around service to each other and their fellow men and to their religious faith. If you see them working with me, they're constantly Riley and friends descend trail   Photo by  Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning Newsrearranging my clothes, or shifting me so I'm sitting properly in the doko," Mr. Rodgers said.

"You can see they're not at all afraid to touch me as if they know me as a brother or a close friend. You compare that to the United States: People don't want to get involved. They don't want to get close to someone in a wheelchair, someone so physically different.

"It really is liberating," he said. "You could teach people in other parts of the world how to go through the motions that these guys do, but you can't make them have their compassion."

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


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