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March 2003:

9 15 - 17 18 19 21 23 24 25 26 27 28 30 31 | April  
Mar. 24

Namche Bazaar   Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsFrom Namche Bazaar, team leader Gary Guller sends back reports of snowfall: At 11,283 feet, we're resting and acclimatizing for three days before continuing on toward Base Camp. Now is the time to wash clothes (by hand, of course), and raid the local bakeries. The Sherpa capital offers the rare opportunity to indulge in western delights while on the trail, and even has a bar with a pool table. This is the last sign of "civilization" - nothing like this further up!!

Christine Kane (Challenge Trek Team): This trip is amazing! My pollution cough is gone now that we are above 11,000ft and there is COLD clean air. I am thinking of everyone all the time, especially on the really steep parts of the trail. Your support and positive karma have pushed me over many rocks that are taller than I am!!!

Andy Cockrum (Videographer): It's been a busy day in Namche. We're hoping to do further interviews with team members this afternoon. I had a mild altitude ailment last night but now I'm just slow. Slow slow slow. I need to run now (Ha ha!) back up the hill for lunch. Doing well.

TE '03 and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities needs your continued support.

Questions / comments for the team

Slide show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News

Namche Bridge      Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsPatience the main obstacle for wheelchair climbers
By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

NAMCHE BAZAAR, Nepal – The Namche Bridge rocked high above the Dudh Koshi River gorge as Riley Woods leaned his wheelchair onto its back wheels and began rolling.

Three Sherpas anxiously shadowed him, but the 28-year-old Waco man pushed ahead, determined to cross the 200-foot hanging bridge on his own.

Other members of Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek hooted and clapped as he reached the other side, and Mr. Woods beamed.

"I’ve always wanted to cross a bridge like that," said Mr. Woods, a paraplegic since a skiing accident in 1997. "So now I have.’’

Just behind him, Mark Ezzell climbed from the bamboo basket used by the team’s Sherpas to carry him and others up the mountain trail and scooted on his backside onto the bridge.

He propelled himself with his hands across the rough wooden boards, pausing to gaze through strings of Buddhist prayer flags draped on its mesh sides to the soaring peaks above and roiling white-green water below.

Mark Ezzell crosses bridge    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News"It was fun, but it was tiring. It’s surprising how tiring it is. It’s kind of hard to catch your breath," said the 39-year-old Raleigh, N.C., man, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. "It’s not scary, but it’ll look scary when I show pictures to the folks at home."

It was a small victory for the four of the Team Everest 03 members who use wheelchairs for mobility. They are among 10 people from the U.S. and two Nepalese Sherpa with disabilities trekking to Everest. The group, sponsored by the Austin based Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, hopes that their journey to one of the highest, most inaccessible places on the globe will call attention to the abilities and potential of people who live with physical challenges.

At the end of their trek, leader Gary Guller of Austin hopes to lead a smaller group of two Americans and one Canadian to the summit. If successful, Mr. Guller would be the first person with one arm to stand atop the world’s highest mountain.

The trek towards Everest has been bittersweet for the four men who use wheelchairs for mobility. All had hoped they would be able to propel themselves for most, if not all of the 23-day trek.

But they have spent much of their time riding on porters’ backs, and they say their biggest challenge so far has been patience – with themselves, the Sherpas helping their expedition, and the limits of their equipment.

An axle and suspension had to be rebuilt on Mr. Standridge’s wheelchair on the day the group reached the mountains, and a front wheel on Mr. Ezzell’s wheelchair snapped on the first morning of trekking.

Sherpas helped the men improvise, using a camp stove to weld one wheelchair’s suspension and webbing and caribiners for a makeshift harness allowing Barry Muth of San Antonio to ride in it on a porter’s back.

Riley crosses bridge     Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsAs they have moved upward, he and others have often been hampered by the region’s steep, rough terrain and their concern that the Sherpas could be worn out by helping them push themselves in their wheelchairs.

"I have so many mixed feelings right now about all this. I really wish I could do it by myself – just walk and do it," Mr. Woods said after the second day of trekking. "It’s beautiful. I’m glad to be here. But at the same time, I feel bad that I’m not doing much and the Sherpas are having to work so hard."

The narrow trails often traverse rocks and edge steep cliffs impassible to wheelchairs. Even on relatively smooth stretches, Sherpa guides often have tried to encourage the men to stay in the native baskets or "dokos" used to carry them on porters’ backs.

"You’re dealing with two cultures. People with disabilities have their own mores," Mr. Ezzell said. "One of the things we have in common is the need to do as much for ourselves as possible.

"You contrast that with the Sherpa culture, which is to help as much as possible. That’s not necessarily what those of us with disabilities want," he said.

On Sunday, the group climbed more than 2,200 feet out of the Dudh Koshi River valley to Namche Bazaar, a village at 11,000 feet that is the major center of commerce for the Khumbu region surrounding Mount Everest.

As the trail climbed up the river gorge, porters sometimes swung the men’s dokos near sheer drop offs – a ride that Mr. Muth described as "scary."

"It’s total trust," added Mr. Muth, 44.

The group crossed three swinging wire bridges as the trail wound up the gorge, and at the concrete anchors of each span, the two Sherpa men with disabilities traveling with the group left sprays of wildflowers as gifts to the river.

Mr. Woods said he saw the third and highest bridge from a distance, and he made a declaration.

"I said, I’m crossing that," he said.

But even though the Sherpa "said yeah, yeah," he said, "when we got to the bridge, they tried to carry me across."

Playing pool in Namche    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsSome of his teammates called for the Sherpas to stop, and a porter carrying Mr. Woods’ chair unloaded it so he could climb in.

"We were being carried so much in the baskets that finally I saw the bridges as our opportunity to push ourselves," Mr. Woods said. "It’s like what’s been said about Everest: I wanted to do it because it was there."

In a Namche bar after their long day of travel, the men played 8-ball and danced in their wheelchairs to a stereo blaring AC-DC, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Other trekkers at the bar marveled at how far they’ve come and what they’re attempting.

"My friends at home told me this would be a successful trip if I met famous climbers," said Claudia, a woman from Germany. "This is even better than meeting famous climbers."

The team members talked of their hopes for what will come next, and several declared that Sunday’s bridge traverse is only the first.

Matt and Barry enjoying "time off"      Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News"We’ve all talked about it," Matt Standridge, 24, of San Marcos said with a grin. "The next bridge is mine.

"Keep pushing. Don’t give up. That’s what it’s all about. If you give up, you never know what would’ve happened," he said.

"I do want to wander off the trail and do my own thing. I get frustrated," he said. "At least I’m on this part of the trail, and not back home. There’s times when I look up at the scenery and start smiling."

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