Monday, June 25, 2012

Climbing Blind

In light of today being the 5 year anniversary of Brad, Justin and I summitting Mt Kilimanjaro (tallest mountain in Africa), I wanted to post a couple things/articles that several of us had written after returning from Kili. Here is an article that teammate Justin Grant wrote for his local DBS (Division of Blind Services) Newsletter soon after we returned from Kilimanjaro. Enjoy!

Climbing Blind

By Justin Grant

Looking up into the black sky littered with twinkling lights in the distance, the only thought on my mind was to keep moving. Even after a long week of intense climbing I was somehow able to force my exhausted body further along the steep incline of scree rock that lead to the icy summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I could hear the pounding of my teammates feet on the loose rock as we climbed higher in the bitter cold. Terry was just ahead of me, following the bells that Brad rang to guide him. Before we left our high camp, I had confided a fear of mine to the team. I wasn’t sure how well I could perform being as I was the only visually impaired climber on the team. I was hesitant to guide one of my blind team mates on the start of our summit attempt. Adrenaline soared through my body as I dwelled on the thought of what we were about to attempt. I had never before set a goal so large before. The higher we went the colder it got. I could see what appeared to be tiny ice crystals forming on Jill’s balaclava from the condensation from her breath. For hours we climbed on, our sights set on making at least Gillman’s Point. When we heard our team leader Eric Alexander, an Everest veteran, was turning back our hearts and hopes sank into the pit of the volcano itself. We all thought, our inspiration, our leader is turning around and now there’s just a bunch of rookie American teenagers, almost half of which are blind, in the middle of Africa. How can we go on? I once heard a climber tell me the only thing on your mind should be Ambition and Fear. The ambition is the overwhelming desire to get to the top, but the fear will keep you alive. It seemed as though we all had the ambition to make the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and a few had the fear. Three of us in the team decided to turn around that night. All three had previously been sick before we started our summit attempt. Their fear was more real than anyone’s. Even for me, the only visually impaired climber, I was more set on making the summit than anything else, but in the back of my mind, my fear was rising. I could feel my legs beginning to tremble under my weight from the intense use. My greatest fear was that I would have to turn around and I would not be able to summit with my team, who had become like family over the past few days.

Watching what looked like the trail ahead of me I heard Brand yell “I see snow!” I knew we were getting close. We could actually make it. The farther up we went the higher my spirits rose. Adrenaline began pumping again and in just a little while later, we had reached the crater rim. In the distance we could see the morning sun trying peer across the massive crater that lay before me. We had made it to Gillman’s Point. As we took a short break we had to remind each other that this wasn’t the top, there was still a little more to go, but the summit was in sight, Before long, we all got up to make the final pitch for the top. As we walked along the craters edge the suns rays had broken through the dense layer of cloud far off in the distance. It was the most inspiring sun rise I had ever seen. I counted myself lucky for still being able to see it, in Africa of all places.

The sign was in sight. I had guided Terry the final steps of the journey. We were all concerned for him. He looked as though he were about to die. I spoke to guide him. “Terry, just a little further, a few more steps, I want you to feel this sign in front of us.” As I spoke we walked strait for the sign that welcomed us to the roof of Africa. Out of the blue I heard a soft thump just below me. I looked to see that when I had stopped speaking, Terry kept moving. He had run himself into the sign I had wanted him to feel. I guess I still got what I was going for. Terry didn’t seem to care he’d just run into a random sign on top of a volcano.

None the less we had made it. Three blind, six sighted, myself, and our guides.

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