Greetings Friends and Supporters!
As the team gets closer to Everest base camp, we're
busy here in Austin working with the Texas Legislature to
ensure community services for people with disabilities. Your
emails of support have been motivating and much appreciated
by everyone on the team. Thank you! Messages
of support and questions for the team
We are grateful to Lee Hancock and Erich Schlegel of the
Dallas Morning News for their excellent coverage of the people
of Team Everest '03 and their daily progress. Slide
Taking obstacles in stride
Nearly halfway through journey, disabled climbers relish routine
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
Nepal As darkness descends on the Team Everest 03 camp,
the world shifts from the breathtaking sights of the Himalayas
to the humble sounds of a mountain village.
Children's laughter spills from nearby houses, and among
the rows of yellow tents, Sherpa and American voices are punctuated
by chiming yak bells and the roar of the Dudh Koshi River.
Snowy peaks that glow in the crisp morning light and hide
themselves in clouds each afternoon stand like shadowy sentinels
in the clear, star-flecked sky.
And at first light, Sherpas begin waking everyone in the
camp with offers of hot drinks or "bed tea."
Team members open tents to take in the incandescent peaks
and prepare to climb upward toward the world's highest mountain.
"All of it is just so incredible," said Nikki Tupesis
of Chicago, whose husband, Janis, is serving as the team's
physician. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the
world right now."
The Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek is near the halfway
point of a 23-day trek to Mount Everest.
group's 26 members including nine Americans and two
Nepalese Sherpas with disabilities are headed to base
camp at 17,400 feet on the world's highest mountain. Their
intent is to challenge common assumptions about what people
with physical challenges can do.
Leader Gary Guller of Austin will try to climb to the summit
of the mountain, at 29,035 feet, after the trek with three
other mountaineers from the U.S. and Canada. If successful,
he would be the first person with one arm to stand atop Everest.
Each of their days in the Himalayas has been a mix of discovery
and routine. Together with the expedition's 15 Sherpas and
80 porters, they have learned how to move people with disabilities
ranging from paralysis to lost limbs and debilitating pain
over rugged, steep mountain trails.
They have surprised themselves and others as they've traveled.
Villagers in Lukla, the Himalayan village where the group
flew in from Katmandu to begin their trek at 9,184 feet, gossiped
that none of the team members would make it very far.
They've drawn curious villagers and trekkers and even a few
journalists from countries ranging from India to England,
the Netherlands and South Korea all surprised to see
people with such physical conditions on such a grueling trip.
But only one member has so far dropped out. Mark Gobble,
a teacher at the Texas State School for the Deaf, left the
group early last week because he was too uncomfortable with
being away from his wife and family and the deaf community.
The team has developed rituals of camp life, setting up
a small tent village each night in yak pastures and teahouse
yards and learning more daily about how to live and trek together.
With the Sherpas and other Nepalese carrying expedition
gear, preparing meals, and setting up and tearing down camp
each day, "it's like being on safari like in one of those
British movies," said Sandra Murgia of Austin, who sustained
severe nerve damage to one leg while serving in the US Navy
during the first Persian Gulf War. "Having a set routine
is very comforting, though, since we're headed every day into
The camp begins stirring before dawn, as Sherpas and Nepalese
porters wake, begin boiling water and readying the 13 yak-cow
hybrids being used to haul expedition gear for the day.
The animals are fed from huge packets of hay carried by porters
from lower elevations, and then saddled up with wooden platforms
used to mount loads on their backs.
As they begin to move around, the camp begins to ring with
tinkles and chimes of each animal's bells, worn so they can
be heard coming down winding mountain trails.
Trekkers learn fast to jump to the uphill sections of trails
when they hear the bells to avoid being bumped or worse.
A yak jabbed one team member in the rear with its horns last
week, and the animals have occasionally been known to gore
some Sherpas feed the yaks, others deliver wake-up servings
of bed tea to each tent, followed by pans of water for sponge
"Bed tea rules," said Ms. Murgia. "I want
to bring a Sherpa home with me."
Team members then emerge from their tents to eat breakfast,
joke and talk about the day.
'I'll be busting trail'
The talk often includes jokes about Gene Rodgers, an Austin
man who has had little movement below his shoulders since
being injured in a fall at age 17. He has to be carried in
a Sherpa basket, or doko, but he usually beats everyone else
to the day's destination. "Somebody needs to be the leader
here, so here I am. I'll be busting trail," he declared
on one recent morning.
Others in wheelchairs make a daily ritual of poking fun at
one another, making jokes about paraplegics and quadriplegics
and wisecracking about getting out of their chairs and walking.
At breakfast and nightfall, the team's doctor, Dr. Tupesis,
makes the rounds to find out whether any of the team members
or their Nepalese staff has any ailments.
Dr. Tupesis said he gets 12 to 15 requests for treatment
each day from team members, Sherpas and porters.
About 80 percent of the team members have had brief bouts
of gastrointestinal illness, all probably due to the group's
primitive living conditions. Some of the trekkers who use
wheelchairs have had pressure sores, and others have had problems
Two team members and one porter also have had symptoms of
high-altitude sickness, which at its worst can cause life-threatening
conditions including cerebral edema and pulmonary edema.
But Dr. Tupesis said the group's schedule, taking about twice
the time to reach Everest as most treks, has helped keep
health issues to a minimum. "Overall, I think we're doing
great," he said.
Cold gets harsher
With the group's ascent, which will reach 14,000 feet by
the weekend, nights and early mornings get colder. Team members
bundle into more layers of fleece and long underwear and begin
to pull out heavy down jackets.
While nighttime temperatures hovered in the 30s during early
days of the trip, it was 27 degrees inside the tents on Thursday,
when the group camped at 12,600 feet outside the Buddhist
monastery of Tengboche.
It was so cold outside that tents that people who had hung
laundry on tent lines found it frozen in the morning.
"Frozen underwear, frozen underwear, anybody need some
frozen underwear?" said Dr. Tupesis. "They're as
stiff as a board."
By midmorning, the temperatures rise into the 60s, and team
members who walk the trail are usually in T-shirts and sometimes
Those in wheelchairs usually stay in warmer clothing, and
Mr. Rodgers is often bundled in three or four layers because
spinal injuries make it difficult to regulate his body temperature.
"With the cold, it's a struggle to get out of bed every
day," said Barry Muth of San Antonio, who lost most use
of his body below his chest after a car accident but has enough
arm control to push his wheelchair. "I'm finding out
what my body's made of."
group heads up the trail about 9 a.m., and team members quickly
spread out, stopping occasionally at teahouses along the way
for hot tea and snacks. Some, like Dinesh Ranasinghe, a San
Antonio man who uses a prosthetic leg, have the most difficulty
on downhill sections of the trail. Mr. Ranasinghe, whose leg
was amputated because of a childhood tumor, has begun swathing
his leg stump with duct tape because it has become so sore
on the jarring trails.
Others, like Kim Smith of Dorchester, who has hip dysplasia
and fibromyalgia, struggle most going uphill. She has taken
twice as long as most other team members to travel each day's
route, and was forced to remain behind last week to try to
adjust to the physical stresses of high altitude before continuing
But she and others say they've been rewarded by the spectacular
views of soaring mountains, river gorges, piercing sunlight
and stunning blue sky.
"The beauty has surpassed what I've anticipated, and
I've been fortunate. I've seen some mountains: British Columbia,
the Alps," said Christine White of Austin, who has had
severe hearing loss since childhood.
"There's a real connection between earth and sky here.
To me, the mountains beckon you. You're afraid of them in
a sense, because they're so enormous, but at the same time,
they call you."
Clouds begin rolling in from the high peaks by noon, and
most of the team is back in winter clothing by 3 or 4 p.m.
The group camps by midafternoon in the yards of small lodges
or teahouses, where primitive outhouses and pans of water
for sponge baths are what pass for amenities.
In an outhouse, some of the porters stashed a stack of shredded
cardboard boxes for their toilet paper. In another, at a village
school, a small tin bucket was filled with students' old test
The Sherpas set up camp and then prepare lunches and dinners
and late-afternoon tea.
team gathers just after dark in a large dining tent to eat,
talk about the day's hike and hear about the next day's trek.
Given the range of physical limitations, the group's leader,
Mr. Guller, said he has been awed by its progress and its
adaptation to life in one of the world's poorest and least
"To come out here and mix in all the elements: altitude,
ability, disability, extreme cold, different diet, unknown
culture, and to do it like these people are I didn't
know the strength of the human spirit," he said. "To
be here collectively, it's like a force, going up the mountain."
CTD's current legislative work: Kids should
grow up in families
Texas holds the shameful distinction of leading the nation
in children with disabilities residing in institutions. In
2001, disability advocates succeeded in getting the state
to establish the Family-Based Alternatives program. Recognizing
that these kids cannot return to their birth families, the
program is about recruitment, training and support of foster
families who want to take a kid with a disability into their
home. Family-Based Alternatives has already identified some
200 interested families and is primed to expand. Yet, the
Texas Legislature has slated the program for elimination as
they deal with the budget crisis. With an annual budget of
only $400,000, Family-Based Alternatives is one of the best
uses of state money, giving children a chance to prosper and
become included in society. Kids in institutions never reach
their potential and historically remain institutionalized.
CTD is giving special effort to saving this small, valuable
Contact Dennis Borel at (512) 478-3366 or email@example.com
for a media kit, sponsorship opportunities and to learn more
about TE '03 and the advocacy work of the Coalition of Texans
with Disabilities (CTD).
A project of CTD, Team Everest '03 is one of the most important
events in the disability community, radically changing the
way individuals with disabilities are perceived. The year
2003 marks the 50th anniversary of the first summit of Everest
by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Team Everest ’03
represents 50 years of progress of people with disabilities
and will “Challenge the Myth” that having a disability equates
to a lack of capability and potential.