Climbing Everest… Blind

March 21st, 2008 by gvanourek

All the talk in the news lately about China closing Mt. Everest to climbers because of the Olympics reminds me of a talk I heard recently by Erik Weihenmayer.In 2001, Erik became the only blind man in history to have reached the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. During that climb, his team also set a world record for the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day (19 of 21). He has also climbed the “Seven Summits”—the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Not content to settle for climbing, he also taught himself to be an accomplished paraglider (after devising a radio and bell system to help him get his bearings as he flies), ice-climber (he uses the sound of the ice to guide him), and skier. After losing his sight at age 13, he became a middle school teacher and wrestling coach but then one day had an epiphany when he signed up for a rock-climbing class.He says that it was exhilarating—really scary but beautiful… and a re-birth for him into his new life as a world-class adventurer, facing temperatures of 50 below in Antartica, 8-day monsoons at 21,000 feet, and ice chasm crossings that are breath-taking. Check out his photo gallery.

Erik likes to work in teams. In 1999, he climbed an 800-foot rock tower in Moah, Utah with Mark Wellman (the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan in Yosemite) and Hugh Herr (a double-leg amputee and Harvard scientist). The trio also formed a non-profit called No Barriers, helping people with disabilities push through barriers in life via innovative ideas, approaches, and technologies.

Erik is also an author and speaker—and a consummate life entrepreneur. Here are some of the things he talked about in Denver:

* Life can be a great adventure.

* Having a unifying vision for your life is essential. It binds together our goals and gives them purpose and power. This vision is an internal compass that guides us, even through nasty weather.

* We need to decide how we see our selves living our lives and serving people. What will our legacy be? He urges us to figure out what we want to do with our lives—allowing ourselves to be bold and to know what our dreams are—and then to figure out what we have to do to realize them.

* He approaches challenges as a problem-solver and innovator. He’s motivated by a sense of what’s possible, by a light he believes that we all have inside us.

It’s important to note that he’s not fearless. One of his greatest fears, he says, is “not participating in life.” When asked how he approaches fear, his answer is powerfully simple: “I practice overcoming fear and adversity by overcoming fear and adversity…. I climb. When you do big things, you suffer. Try to suffer nobly.”

Erik speaks to us all about the power of human beings to rise above adversity and forge into new terrain beyond perceived limits. He has much to teach us about the value of failure and the power of adventure in our lives.

To learn more and be inspired, check out Touch the Top.

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