& Namaste! We arrived into the village of Lukla (9,000
ft) today where the trail and our trek to Everest Base Camp
officially begins! The entire team flew out of Kathmandu in
two Twin Otter airplanes; we took out a few seats to accommodate
the wheelchairs. With beautiful, clear weather, we landed
safely at the single mountain airstrip that is the Lukla airport.
Tonight, we'll camp in Lukla to make sure logistics and supplies
are in good order. Our kit bags, food and tents are being
transported on our route via a large contingent of porters
and yak-hybrids and yaks. Much of the gear for the expedition
is already on its way to Base Camp. Tomorrow we'll rise early
and begin our trek to Phakding. It's amazing what a little
effort can do to open the door to the Himalayan Mountains
for all, regardless of a disability! We'll keep you posted.
- Gary Guller
Disabled team sets off on trek to Everest base
Climbers gleeful as they arrive at expedition's starting point
by LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
LUKLA, Nepal Matt Standridge rolled to the edge of
the tarmac, popped his wheelchair into a wheelie and began
spinning manically, his grin as big as the snow-topped mountains
Beside him, fellow Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek members
Riley Woods and Gene Rodgers stared at the face of Chetra,
the 18,500-foot Himalayan peak looming over the airstrip where
they had just landed.
"It's like Riley and Matt were saying a while ago
this is enough. If the trip ended right now, it would be enough,"
said Mr. Rodgers, 47, an Austin resident with quadriplegia.
"This alone made it worthwhile."
But they and seven other people with disabilities have weeks
more to travel and a higher final goal. The group, organized
by the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, started its
trek to the base camp of Mount Everest at 17,600 feet on Thursday,
with a flight from Nepal's capital city to this tiny village
at 9,134 feet.
They hope that traveling to the world's highest mountain
despite disabilities ranging from paralysis to deafness, lost
limbs and chronic pain will shift assumptions for themselves
and those who watch about what people with physical
challenges can do.
After the trek, leader Gary Guller, 36, of Austin hopes to
go to the mountain's summit with a smaller group of climbers.
If they make it, he would be the first person with one arm
to stand atop Everest.
group arrived in Katmandu on Monday and spent three days preparing
a mountain expedition that will take them as high as the mountain
above Lukla before they arrive around April 3 at Everest's
They woke before dawn on Thursday to head to Tribhuwan Airport.
There, a mob of Sherpas unloaded the expedition's massive
array of gear and hoisted five team members in wheelchairs
"Watching these guys get moved in and out of airplanes,
buses, getting handled so much, I realize you have to have
such grace," said Steve Bernstein, a hotel-furnishings
project manager from Morrison, Colo., who volunteered to help
on the trek. "To develop a tolerance for that, the only
word I can think of, is grace."
As the group moved onto the tarmac toward two waiting Shangri-La
Airways planes, several of the men in wheelchairs raced across
the asphalt through the thick morning mist, reveling in the
chance to move fast on flat ground.
"Just seeing that it is very intense," Mr.
Guller said. "To see them finally in the mountains, after
so much, to finally be here I've almost cried to think
this is finally happening."
Mr. Standridge, 24, an assistant manager at Wal-Mart in San
Marcos who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle
accident, posed for a picture by one of the Shangri-La planes
and rolled up a sleeve to display a Superman tattoo. "Right
there, right there, babe!"
"Not till you get to base camp," laughed Mark Ezell,
a Raleigh, N.C., man born with spina bifida.
Years of waiting
group then loaded onto the airplanes, specially modified for
the wheelchairs, and took off for the 45-minute flight to
Lukla, the jumping-off point for most Western travelers trekking
through the remote Khumbu region around Mount Everest. Within
minutes, the jagged, white peaks of the Himalayas came into
view, wreathed in clouds and framed by a blue sky.
"I've been waiting 30 years for this," said Richard
Muldowney, 63, of Hinsdale, Mass., a substance-abuse counselor
who came on the trek because he was interested in helping
and traveling with such a diverse group of people with disabilities.
"I've seen so many pictures in so many books, it feels
as if I've been here. It was something I thought would never
The plane landed on an improbably small landing strip slanted
30 degrees up the mountain slope, and dozens of Sherpas gathered
to take in the sight of trekkers, some in wheelchairs or walking
with canes, one with a prosthetic leg. News of their arrival
spread quickly through the village of 1,500.
"I had a lady come up to me within two minutes after
we landed," said Dr. Janis Tupensis of Chicago, who is
serving as the expedition's doctor. "I think she was
from Germany. She said, 'Who's running this? I have friends
who want to do this. Where do I sign up?' "
At one of Lukla's 20 teahouses, hostels built for trekkers,
an elaborate camp staffed by more than 50 Sherpas and porters
was set up for the group's first night.
There, gangs of curious children flocked to stare and play
among the trekkers' 17 tents. Some Sherpa men gathered to
weave bamboo onto wood frames for the large, modified baskets
called dokos that will be used to carry some
of the paralyzed men.
Trek members poked through gear, chatted or dozed as sunlight
warmed the thin air. A few explored the village's narrow main
street, a rocky path busy with townspeople, porters carrying
other trekkers' gear and passing teams of half-breed yaks
used to move heavy loads between mountain villages in lower
parts of the Himalayas.
camp, Mr. Woods and Mr. Standridge said their initial excitement
had shifted a little as they stared at the steep crags overhead.
"I'd like to go out and hike. I look up at these mountains
and I feel really frustrated," said Mr. Woods, 27, of
Waco, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a skiing accident.
"There's not any way I could push a chair up the mountain."
Mr. Standridge said he was becoming weary of having so many
people trying to move his chair. "I came here to prove
myself. Any chance I get where I can do something by myself,
I do it," he said.
The two men then decided to venture into town alone. Waving
off Sherpas who rushed to help them, they pushed themselves
from their chairs and scooted on their backsides down a 10-foot
stretch of rocky steps. They handed their chairs to each other
and climbed in to wrestle them over more teahouse steps and
Rolling past tiny storefronts, they drew a horde of wide-eyed
village children. One youngster ran behind them, laughing
and making "vroom, vroom, vroom" noises. Another
called to friends: "Look! They're really going fast!"
The children and village adults clapped and cheered as they
moved back over the steps and headed through the teahouse
to their encampment.
"This," Mr. Standridge said, "is what we came
here to do."
This expedition would not be possible without you and we
thank you. We are still in need of funds to complete the expedition
and are grateful for your continued support. How
you can support the team.
show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News