prepare for another push
Ice climbing practice, memorial mark their final day at base
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
MOUNT EVEREST, Nepal It was a novel sight in this
mecca for mountaineers: a man in a wheelchair hoisting himself
up an ice pinnacle with a rope and a mechanical ascender
the tools climbers use to go up Everest.
"Push! Push! Push!" shouted a clutch of Sherpas
guiding Barry Muth's chair as he strained against its wheels.
"You're breaking trail for everybody!" yelled Austin
climber Gary Guller, leader of the Team Everest 03 Challenge
The San Antonio man crested the 30-foot hill and slumped
over panting as his teammates cheered.
"Barry, your first ascent!" called team doctor
Janis Tupesis of Chicago.
"Oh, man," gasped Mr. Muth, 44, who has been paralyzed
with limited mobility in one hand and both arms since a car
accident several years ago. "That's tiring. I didn't
know 17,000 feet would be this tiring."
It was another small triumph in a journey to the world's
highest mountain for a Texas-based group with disabilities.
The group trekked for 17 days through the Himalayas to reach
Mount Everest, arriving Sunday at its rock- and ice-strewn
base camp at 17,600 feet.
Monday, the group participated in a Buddhist ceremony asking
for blessings for Mr. Guller and his smaller team that will
head for the summit.
Lama Gelgen, who conducts the ceremonies for climbing
teams at base camp each spring, prepared elaborate butter
sculptures and arranged them along with water, sacred rice,
offerings of food and portraits of the Buddha and a revered
Tibetan Buddhist lama on a stone altar built by the team's
The climbers piled their ice axes, boots, ropes and other
climbing gear beside the altar, and Sherpas brought more food
as well as bottles of wine, Mount Everest whisky and a potent
local rice homebrew called chang to offer at the altar.
The lama, dressed in a golden brocade shirt, crimson robe
and crimson and white shawl, chanted Tibetan Buddhist prayers
asking the deity, who Tibetans and Sherpas believe reside
in the mountain they call Chomolungma, to grant safe passage
to Mr. Guller and his climbing team.
Ice climbing school
That night, the group's climbing Sherpas asked Mr. Guller
whether they could figure out a way to take the team onto
the glacier for ice climbing lessons.
The Sherpas rose early to rig climbing ropes on a nearby
ice pinnacle and modified harnesses to accommodate wheelchairs,
and team members began their last day at Everest base camp
by climbing on the ice pinnacles of the great Khumbu Glacier.
the time team members walked from their campsite to the nearby
ice field, the Sherpas had also hung a customized American
flag brought by one of the group with stars arranged
in the shape of a wheelchair on the pinnacle's wall
of pale blue-green ice.
They donned harnesses and hooked one by one into the ascenders
rectangular metal tools that allow a climber to balance
on a near vertical slope and push himself up a rope with his
Some members chose a 45-degree slope, but others including
paraplegics Riley Woods and Matt Standridge gravitated
toward a near-vertical ice face.
"This one no good for wheelchair," said Mingma
Sherpa when Mr. Woods pointed at the orange rope leading up
the steep face.
"I can do it," Mr. Woods replied, instructing Sherpas
to help him from his chair onto the snow and into a climbing
The 28-year-old Waco man then began moving the ascender up
the rope with his arms, dragging his legs over snow and ice
"You're doin' it, buddy!" Mr. Standridge bellowed
"Any bets on his catheter being in still? Crap. I'm
gonna be doin' a lot of business tonight," muttered Dr.
Tupesis as he watched Mr. Woods move upward. "I don't
want to take care of broken legs on the last day."
And then Mr. Standridge, 24, of San Marcos, struggled up
the ice face, coming down spent and breathless. "It was
hard. I had no idea how hard it would be."
Memorial to a son
At the end of the morning, the group gathered at the foot
of the ice wall as team member Sandra Murgia, 43, of Austin
scattered ashes of her son Kenny, who died at 11 ½
after a lifelong battle with chromosomal damage that left
him using a wheelchair and severely disabled.
"He would love to be here, because he just loved
life," she said, weeping.
night, as the team finished its last dinner at base camp,
climber and mountain guide Gary Scott the expedition's
co-leader told team members to consider the enormity
of all that they had just accomplished.
"This is my 30-somethingth trek, and in many ways this
has been the most rewarding to me and the most memorable,"
said Mr. Scott, of Colorado Springs, Colo., who has guided
Himalayan treks for decades.
"We all have our own Everest experiences, and I believe
some of you have climbed your own Everests on this trip."
See a slide
show by Dallas Morning News photographer Erich Schlegel.
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.
On Thursday, April 17 there will be a Challenge
Trek Team Homecoming and fundraiser from 6-10 pm
at Mother Egan's, 715 W. 6th St., Austin. The event
will feature top local musicians.
are invited to attend a panel discussion and press conference
with trek team members also on April 17, 10:00 am
at the CTD offices, 316 W. 12th St., Austin. Call 512/478-3366
or Email for details
about both events.
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