come out on top
Disabled climbers triumphant in journey to Everest base camp
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
MOUNT EVEREST They came one by one, some howling with
glee, some quietly exulting in the awesome expanse of rocks
and ice, soaring peaks and sapphire sky.
"Base camp, baby! Yeaaah! Hell, yeah!" hollered
Matt Standridge, 24, of San Marcos, a paraplegic and Wal-Mart
He and 20 other members of Team Everest 03's Challenge Trek
reached the foot of the world's highest mountain Sunday, the
culmination of a grueling, 17-day journey.
"I'm elated, just elated that the team made it. I had
some doubts along the way," said Christine White, 50,
human resources management director for the Texas Public Utilities
Commission in Austin.
"Everyone had their ... struggles," said Mrs. White,
who has severe hearing loss. "But we're here, and we
really do have one voice with which we can tell the disabled
community and the world: It can be done."
The group left the high plain of Gorak Shep about
9 a.m. Sunday, passing under chortens or memorials to four
climbers killed in 1996.
then trekked for hours over some of the harshest terrain of
the trip: the rock and scree slopes of the Khumbu Glacier.
The trail snaked up and down the glacier's spine, sometimes
following a knife-edge crest dropping 100 or 150 feet on either
side, and passing near ice caves and frozen pools.
Toward the end, the deadly Khumbu icefall the gateway
to the Everest summit came into view. Tiny dots moved
over the chaos of frozen spires, walls and chasms: they were
climbers dwarfed by the tumbling ice.
The team reached camp before 3 p.m. a clutch of yellow
tents atop a moonscape of rocks, scree and glacial ice at
A steady wind blew frigid gusts off the glacier. Avalanches
roared regularly from the slopes above. The air was palpably
thin with half the oxygen of sea level. And though
they moved slowly, team members were ebullient.
"To come here and see what so many people before me
have seen, to see how much more there is than any picture
can convey it is incredible," said Riley Woods,
28, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a skiing accident
trek to base camp was conceived by Austin climber Gary Guller
and the Coalition for Texans With Disabilities to shatter
stereotypes about people with physical challenges.
Ten Americans with disabilities ranging from quadriplegia
to lost limbs, deafness and chronic pain signed up. They were
joined by two Nepalese Sherpa with disabilities and nine American
Mr. Guller also is leading three climbers to the top of Everest.
If successful, he would be the first person with one arm atop
the world's highest mountain.
The team's journey began with a flight from Katmandu to Lukla,
a village at just over 9,000 feet.
Some villagers speculated that they wouldn't get past Namche,
two or three days' walk up the mountains. But the group formed
a tight team with their Sherpa helpers, experimenting constantly
with ways to get paralyzed people over rough terrain.
Along the way, they drew constant attention and praise from
villagers, other trekkers and Everest expeditions.
"This is the most important project since Everest was
climbed 50 years ago. It's giving people a lot of hope,"
said Charles Wittmack of Des Moines, Iowa, who met the group
near Lobuche on his way to the mountain.
On Sunday, Miura Yuichiro, a 70-year-old Japanese man known
for skiing the mountain in the 1970s, passed on his way up
"Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!" Mr. Yuichiro and his
But the trip had barely started when the group struggled
with fierce cold, primitive living conditions and harsh Himalayan
terrain. Most of the paralyzed men hadn't been camping since
they were injured, and they learned everyday rituals such
as getting undressed and into sleeping bags and keeping warm
"I found out a little bit more about myself and my injury,
how I can or can't tolerate things, how I can push myself,"
said Barry Muth, 44, of San Antonio, a quadriplegic since
a car accident ended his Army career in the mid-1990s.
Ranasinghe, 26, a Web site developer from San Antonio who
lost part of one leg to a tumor when he was 10, struggled
constantly with sores on his stump.
Nights were so frigid that temperatures inside tents dropped
to the low 20s, and snow fell repeatedly delaying the
final walk to base camp for two days.
One team member, a deaf teacher from Austin, turned back
after four days, citing the stress of being so far from his
family and the deaf community. Others fell sick with gastrointestinal
On Friday, team member Gene Rodgers of Austin, a 47-year-old
quadriplegic, was taken by helicopter to Katmandu because
of a bowel obstruction. He was successfully treated but remained
hospitalized for observation.
A number of team members had altitude problems ranging from
headaches, nausea and sleep disruption to full-blown acute
mountain sickness, which can lead to life threatening pulmonary
edema and cerebral edema. Several members were forced to turn
back because of altitude problems.
Kim Smith, 38, of Dorchester, Texas, who has fibromyalgia
chronic pain of unidentified origin, stayed behind
at one point to try to regain her strength. She did catch
up but was later forced back for good last week.
The two Sherpas with disabilities turned back Friday because
of altitude problems, and team member Steve Bernstein of Morrison,
Colo., left Saturday because of difficulty sleeping.
Chris Watkins of Thunder Bay, Canada, a member of the summit
team, had to be taken down the mountains Saturday night because
of acute altitude sickness. He is expected to rejoin the climbing
team at base camp.
Mr. Guller and expedition co-leader Gary Scott of Colorado
Springs, Colo., said the number who made it is remarkable.
"It takes away a lot of excuses for a lot of people who
think 'I'm not fit enough, I'm not strong enough,' "
said Mr. Scott, a professional guide.
Standing on Everest, team members talked of lifelong friendships
formed in their journey, bonds that kept them going and the
joy of living in high mountains whose beauty is beyond words.
To some the trek was a kind of pilgrimage, whose value may
be in the hardships that stripped away the trivialities of
Going up, the world was reduced and expanded. Thin air and
steep slopes bled energy. Focus turned inward to each step,
each breath. The reward was in each glance upward to the vast
interplay of stone and snow, shadow and light.
Shedding to essentials, an elemental desire took hold: an
urge to go higher, an aspiration to connect with something
That, they said, may be the attraction of Everest. The lure
of this place where Earth meets sky may be as simple and as
complex as the personal price paid to be there.
It is beautiful, stark and cold. There is no place higher.
Like others before them, Team Everest 03 members say, finally
making it to Mount Everest is reaching beyond and for a transcendent
moment, finding themselves.
Email messages to
Team Everest '03 still needs to raise
funds to cover expedition expenses. Plans are in the works
for an April 17 fundraiser, 6-10 pm at Mother Egan's in Austin.
The event will welcome team members home and top local musicians
will play. A panel discussion with the trek team members will
be held at 10:00 am, also on April 17, at the CTD offices.
Call 512/478-3366 or Email
Contact Dennis Borel at 512/478-3366 M-F (other times
at 512/431-1656 or 512/443-6038) or firstname.lastname@example.org
for a media kit, sponsorship opportunities and to learn more
about TE '03 and the advocacy work of CTD.
show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News
The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities is dedicated to
ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy equal opportunities
to live, work, play, and participate fully in the community
of their choice. CTD has consistently delivered important
results for persons with disabilities for the past 24 years,
and needs your support to fight the discrimination that faces
individuals with disabilities in almost every aspect of their