Browsing articles from "April, 2012"
Apr 25, 2012

Greatest Moments on Everest…I’m #4

Outside Magazine Online just published an article about the Ten Greatest Moments On Everest. Naturally, the list includes Tenzing Norgay and Ed Hillary’s first ascent and Reinhold Messner’s solo ascent. But my ascent is fourth on the list! That’s quite an honor to be included with those greats as well as Tom Hornbein, Willi Unsoeld, Apa Sherpa, and Göran Kropp.

I was disappointed, however, that Outside didn’t acknowledge my teammates who helped make my climb possible. So for the record, my thanks once again to team leader Pasquale “PV” Scaturro, Eric Alexander, Luis Benitez, Michael Brown, Sherman Bull and his son Brad, Jeff Evans, Steve Gipe, Didrik Johnck, Charley Mace, Chris Morris, and Mike O’Donnell! Also Kevin Cherilla, Kami Tenzing, and our many other support members.

Our team set some other records as well. We had the oldest climber at the time summit (Sherman Bull at age 64), the first American father/son team to summit (Sherman and Brad), and the largest team to summit in one day (11 out of 13 climbing team members plus 8 Sherpas).

Apr 19, 2012

Spring Skiing

When you ask folks in Colorado about the skiing this season, there is a collective groan of disappointment. The year before, we were spoiled by one of the biggest and best snow years on record and now we are feeling a bit let down. Nonetheless, spring is the time to get out and enjoy ski mountaineering on the higher peaks!
Warm, sunny days followed by cool nights help consolidate the snowpack, making it relatively safe from avalanches. This stability enables backcountry skiers to enjoy the steep bowls and chutes that are too dangerous earlier in the season.
After a few quick calls, I joined up with a few friends for a day of adventure on Jones Pass, near Winter Park, CO. We left early and found ourselves in a deserted parking lot, a rare occurrence at this popular destination. The approach through the trees was an easy hour of skinning but, as soon as we reached treeline, we were blasted by 50 mph gusts that nearly pushed us backwards down the hill.
We donned our shell gear and forged ahead through the valley to the base of our objective, Pettingell Peak, a 13,418-foot point on the Continental Divide. On the approach, my friends eyed a steep snow bowl for our descent that was mostly free of debris and exposed rocks. We continued, up a steep ridge line, pausing as as the gales and small tornados of blowing snow engulfed us momentarily.
For the last 50 meters, we hunkered down and put the skis on our packs and booted up the last steep section to the summit ridge. Though it wasn’t terribly cold, I was thankful for my Mountain Hardwear Hooded Nitrous Jacket. This ultralight down jacket is one of my all-time favorite pieces of equipment because it’s so versatile and takes up so little space in my pack. The brutal winds, however, tempered our summit celebration so we beat a hasty retreat.
We had hoped that the warm temperatures and sunshine would soften the snow but, alas, not the case. We scraped our way down the upper section and were met with marginally better yet still very firm and unforgiving hard pack for the rest of our 1,000-foot descent. It took us about 5 minutes to ski down what took more than an hour to climb.
Being a blind skier, skiing through the trees on the track out can be the most challenging part of the day. However, my friend Skyler and I developed a new technique where he grabs both of the ends of my poles and I am able to follow right behind in his track while hopefully avoiding the branches and trees as we went sailing by. It proved to be pretty effective–no collisions–and before long we were back at the trailhead.
It certainly wasn’t the glorious ski day we had envisioned but it is always great to get out with friends on a sunny day in the backcountry. I’d sure rather battle strong winds and breathe thin air than sit at my desk answering emails and making phone calls!
PS All photos of Erik by Skyler Williams.

Apr 13, 2012

No Barriers Elbert Climb – June 3rd

Join me for the 2nd annual No Barriers What’s YOUR Everest? Challenge on June 2-3 for a climb of Mt. Elbert (14,400 feet), the tallest peak in Colorado. This fundraising event encourages you to embrace the No Barriers mindset and discover “what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”

The trail to the summit of Elbert is 4.5 miles long, with 4,700 feet of elevation gain and over half of that is above treeline. For those worried they cannot reach the summit, you are welcome to join us for a picnic at treeline. Last year, despite heavy snow, 55 climbers reached the top of Quandary Peak (14,265 feet) and raised over $10,000 for No Barriers.

Our climbing team will include wounded soldiers from our 2012 Soldiers To Summits program as well as members of my Everest team. A kick-off dinner and reception on the evening of June 2nd in Leadville will inspire you to believe in the power of the human spirit to transcend all barriers.

The Elbert climb and dinner are open to anyone who donates $500 or more to No Barriers by May 30, 2012. If you’ve already donated that amount to No Barriers, Soldiers to Summits, or Global Explorers in 2012, you’re welcome to join us too! If $500 is out of your donation range, but you’d still like to participate, you can get pledges from your friends, family and colleagues. We’ve even set up a Crowdrise fundraising page for you to get started.

Come and push through your barriers! Register NOW online or send an email to for additional information.


Apr 12, 2012

Zero/Zero Hikes the Appalachian Trail

Check out this great TV documentary about Trevor Thomas solo hiking the Appalachian Trail, which extends 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine. Shortly after he lost his vision to a rare eye disease, he heard me talk about climbing Everest. That gave him the inspiration to start hiking and doing things on his own.

Trevor is a great example of the No Barriers mindset because he took up the challenge of long distance hiking after going blind. Even more remarkable, he has since hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (2,663 miles) and the Tahoe Rim Trail (165 miles). Next year, he plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles).

The story begins at 10:51 of this PBS show produced in North Carolina.

Watch Soldier’s Stories – Trail of Trust on PBS. See more from Our State.

Apr 12, 2012

Skiing with Arjun and Rob

Recently, I had a fantastic day of skiing with my nine-year old son, Arjun, and “Uncle Rob” at Copper Mountain. Rob is a longtime climbing, kayaking, and adventure partner and guide who has been with me on many trips over the years.

Rob was also with me in Nepal on the initial trip when I first met my son. Rob and I were sitting at a café table in Kathmandu while five-year-old Arjun played in the grass with other Nepali children also being adopted. One Italian couple approached our table and asked, “How is the adoption process going for you two?” Both Rob and I grinned sheepishly and I finally piped up, “Oh no! He’s just a friend. My wife’s coming on the next trip,” in my most manly voice.

We brought Arjun home just about four years ago. He learned to ride a bike with no training wheels in a few days and learned basic English in only a couple months. Now he’s becoming a really good skier.

In fact this day, Uncle Rob led him down the steepest line at Spaulding Bowl, Patrol Gulley, and even skied off the six-foot cornice. The first time, his top ski got caught and he took a slide of a couple hundred feet but the next time, although a little scared, he stuck it and skied the chute with no falls.

By contrast, I skied the big, open face to skiers right and managed to find the only rock in the entire upper bowl. I had a total “yard sale.” My skis went flying, my poles flew out of my hands, and I landed on my chest before sliding 100 feet down the mountain.

Oh well! I thought I’d have a few more years of superiority—I guess I need to accept the inevitable; my son is already a better skier than me. But at least we’re having fun being outside together!


Apr 11, 2012

Kayak Training

Recently, I have been focusing my training on whitewater kayaking, which is easily the scariest, most intense thing I have ever attempted. To maximize our training time, my partner and guide, Rob Raker, and I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, home to the United States National Whitewater Center.

We have great rivers in Colorado but what makes the NWC unique is the world’s largest pumped whitewater park. This incredible man-made facility, which opened in 2006, offers consistent water flows and rapids so it is ideal for practicing technique.

Jeff Wise, the Executive Director of the NWC, was totally gracious to us and really opened up his staff to helping me out. The entire 300-acre facility includes climbing walls, mountain bike trails, a HUGE zip line, and a 3-hour rope course tour of the forest canopy. At night when they turn the pumps off, you can walk down the channels and check out all the features that create the rapids.

Photo by Rob Raker.

The NWC holds 12 million gallons of water with seven 620 HP lift pumps moving more than 536,000 gallons of water per minute (1,200 cfs). It has an elevation change of 21 feet between the upper and lower ponds and a conveyor belt system that carries you and your kayak back up, making it an endless river!

Photo by Rob Raker.

The river is divided into two separate channels, including the world’s steepest slalom channel, the world’s highest-volume big water channel, and purpose-built areas for instruction, safety training, and big-wave surfing. When the pumps are turned off, the staff can move obstacles to change the shape and size of rapids. Unlike a real river, the channels are smooth concrete so there are no boulders that can trap a foot making the NWC relatively safe too.


Photo by Sarah Anderson.

The competition channel is fairly narrow with powerful Class IV rapids. Rob and I did all of our practice runs on the wilderness channel, which has mostly Class II and III rapids. However, it does have some Class IVs that you can avoid with a precise line.

What I quickly discovered is the difference between avoiding the big nasty rapid and getting pummeled by it is only about a foot. As a blind kayaker, getting lined up properly by my guides’ commands is critical and it’s all too easy for something to go wrong. Luckily, Rob and I met Casey Eichfeld, a 22 year-old NWC coach and Olympian who signed aboard to be my second guide. This was a huge advantage since Casey was such a strong paddler, knew the channel from thousands of hours training, and quickly learned our commands.

Photo by Rob Raker.

My first run down the course proved far scarier than I anticipated because it was a busy day. The first rapid is called Entrance Exam, which offers a mellow run on the right or a large drop on the left. We intended to run it on the right but someone else was in the way so Rob had me go left.

In a heartbeat, I flipped over but managed to roll myself back up. But then I was sideways and panicking. I hit the next rapid sideways and flipped again. This time when I tried to roll up there was a kayak on top of me and I pulled my skirt and swam through a series of rapids.

Eventually I was washed into a large eddy, where the water recirculates around and around. Rob pulled me to shore while Casey retrieved my boat. When I finally got out, I felt like a drowned rat – mentally and physically exhausted—my hands were shaking and I felt like I was in way over my head. I had been flipped by the very first rapid. I hadn’t passed the Entrance Exam.

Photo by Rob Raker.

After I calmed down a bit, I had to get back on the horse so we spent the afternoon in a mellower side “instructional” channel with four Class II rapids. Here I just worked on getting my nerves under control.

The next day, I tried Entrance Exam again…and it flipped me again. This time when I rolled up, I was thankfully pushed into an eddy and could then ferry across the river into the instructional channel. We spent three or four hours working on techniques like purposely rolling my kayak at the bottom of the smaller rapids. After four hours of paddling, my body was pretty tired, but my brain was totally exhausted. Listening to quick verbal commands for that long and knowing if you’re just a tiny bit slow or a tiny bit imprecise you’ll get hammered is stressful.

On the third day, I passed the Exam! I made it through my nemesis without flipping and was psyched. So we decided to tackle the upper wilderness channel where I had had my swim. One of the things we improved on this trip was our communication system. We refined the vocabulary: “small left or right” means a 20° course change, “left or right” means 45° change, and “hard left or right” means a 90° turn. In the past, we used to say “paddle hard” to indicate full power but that gets confusing with course changes. So inspired by Casey, now my guides use “charge” when I’m properly lined up to a rapid.

This may not sound like a big deal to a sighted paddler but for me, this was key to getting through the bigger rapids. With precise alignment, I could hammer for ten seconds and get through the waves that would otherwise eat me alive. This was a real breakthrough!

Our fourth and last day at the NWC, I ran the upper wilderness channel three times. Alas, the first run resulted in another flip and swim when I couldn’t get my roll. But the next two runs were nearly perfect so our trip ended on a high note.

Photo by Sarah Anderson.

Blind kayaking has its unique set of challenges such as trying to read the water as it moves under me, or taking a stroke and meeting air instead of water as my paddle hits the trough between the waves, or not knowing which way to lean as the current instantly and powerfully changes direction. Despite this, I’m making progress, building skills, and gaining confidence. We are going back to the NWC for another training session in a few weeks. And then I’ll be hitting some wild water this summer.