Austin man fulfilled dream, became 1st with 1 arm to reach
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN Gary Guller came home from the top of the world
Friday, cheered by family, friends and trekking teammates as he
told of "living his dream" to become the first person
with one arm to climb Mount Everest.
"For a mountaineer, you spend your whole life looking up at
the hills, looking up at the mountains. ...You're always looking
for something a bit higher and a bit harder," he said. "To
finally reach the place on this earth where there is no place higher,
what else is there?"
Mr. Guller stood atop Mount Everest on May 23, 47 days after leading
a group of people with disabilities on a trek to it's base camp.
Along the way, his Team Everest 03 expedition endured repeated
hardships. During the expedition's challenge trek, several people
were felled by altitude sickness and one had to be evacuated by
helicopter because of a potentially deadly intestinal condition.
Mr. Guller suffered excruciating snow blindness after his descent
from the summit; a Sherpa companion broke a leg coming down the
mountain; and another who was like a younger brother to Mr. Guller,
28-year-old Karma Gylzen Sherpa, died May 24 from what was believed
to be septic shock from an abdominal infection.
A helicopter chartered to fly Mr. Guller from the mountains last
week crashed near Everest's base camp killing and injuring
several people just after leaving him, a teammate and their
climbing Sherpas at a remote Himalayan airfield.
Despite the hardships, the 36-year-old said, the journey fulfilled
his dream of a lifetime and increased awareness of the strengths
and abilities of people who live with physical challenges.
"If it changes the way one person is treated, then it's all
been worth it," he said at a news conference sponsored by the
expedition's organizer, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.
Mr. Guller said getting seven other people with physical disabilities
to base camp at 17,600 feet inspired his summit team to make it
to the top.
They needed it. The weather was harsher than usual on the 29,035-foot
peak, with winds that blew entire camps of tents off the upper slopes
and kept climbers from trying to go to Everest's upper reaches for
the first three weeks of the spring summit season.
Bad weather forced Mr. Guller and his teammates to spend three
nights at the mountain's Camp 4 before they could make their summit
bid, and they were kept there for two more nights after he was overcome
with snow blindness a condition where the intense reflection
of high-altitude sun on the snow burns the corneas.
Camp 4 is at 26,000 feet a height so forbidding that it
is known as the death zone and mountaineers try to avoid
staying there more than a few hours before making their final climb.
"We knew that it was going to be tough, that I needed to
be pushed," he said. "To dig that deep inside was bloody
Mr. Guller said others warned them to go down, but they stuck to
their plan. On the day they headed up, the Sherpas told him that
the success of the Challenge Trek made them certain they would make
"They said we've been blessed from the very beginning with
Team Everest 03. Why is today going to be any different? And it
wasn't. We were blessed. We had no wind. We had blue sky,"
he said. "That day was just picture perfect."
He said his greatest physical challenge came on the knife-edged
ridge that runs between Everest's south summit and it's highest
tip. His lead climbing Sherpa motioned toward a narrow ridge of
ice and snow and told him to step there, and he shifted his weight
there gingerly, wondering if it would hold or send him tumbling
into thin air.
"It's 4,000 feet down to Tibet. You can see Camp 2 below you,
and there's nothing but air in between," he said. "Here
you are facing all these things you don't want to face ...You better
make this step right, because the consequence is death."
The ice held, and another Sherpa "looked back and said, 'congratulations.'
At that point, I knew."
When they reached the summit, they had it to themselves. A French
team had just descended. Mr. Guller said he and his four Sherpa
friends knelt, put their heads together and cried.
"For the 50th anniversary, to be standing on top of the world
with your favorite people, four climbing Sherpa, you talk about
a dream come true," he said.
"For me, ever since, God, I can remember ... I've dreamed
of climbing Mount Everest. I truly, truly thought that that would
be just another dream that would not come true, especially after
the accident," said Mr. Guller, recalling the loss of his arm
in a 1986 mountaineering mishap that took the life of his closest
friend. "I cannot say thank you enough to those people that
helped me make this happen."