At a small, dimly lit cocktail reception, dozens of eyes squint
over shoulders and around corners to try and catch an admiring
glimpse at a man who cannot see.
Saturday, the Fort Collins Marriott Hotel and Character Fort
Collins hosted Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to scale Mt.
Weihenmayer was joined at the presentation by his adventuring
partner, Jeff Evans, and his sight dog, Willa. After the
presentation, Weihenmayer answered audience questions with a formal
Q & A session.
At the age of 13, the summer before entering his freshman year
of high school, Weihenmayer lost his vision to retinoschisis, a
degenerative eye disease.
He entered a program at age 16 that taught blind children to be
independent. In this program he discovered rock climbing.
Since then, he has been sky diving, appeared on the Oprah
Winfrey show, won an ESPY, Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly,
an award given by ESPN, was featured in TIME Magazine and has
written a book about his experiences that has been published in
nine countries and in 15 languages.
In May of 2001, Weihenmayer reached the summit of Mt. Everest at
the age of 32, and in September of 2002, reached the top of Mt.
Kosciusko in Australia, making him one of less than 100 people to
accomplish the feat.
Weihenmayer spends much of his time now preparing to conquer
future adventures, as well as sharing his experiences and stories
Weihenmayer presented the story of his life’s adventures,
dangers and accomplishments, and showed the video of his journey to
the top of Everest on Saturday.
One main problem Weihenmayer and his team encountered on the
climb was his lack of vision, which caused the team to take a
slower pace than was preferable.
“I haven’t been able to take a step without worrying that it’s
going to drop into space for about six hours,” Weihenmayer said.
“Some people assume that if you can’t see how far you’re going to
fall, you’re unafraid. I sometimes think that falling into the
unknown is scarier.”
Two areas of the trip that made the slow pace especially
dangerous were in the areas known as “The Icefall” and the “Death
Zone.” The Icefall is a stretch of the climb where ice and rocks
are literally falling off the mountain towards the climbers.
The mountaineers said if a climber can spend six hours, rather
than 13 there, the climber is greatly reducing the danger they are
in. In the Death Zone, speed is vital.
“(In the Death Zone) you can’t acclimatize, your body doesn’t
absorb nutrition. You’re body is a ticking clock up there and
you’re starting to die,” Weihenmayer said.
Weihenmayer enjoys ice climbing as well, but due to his lack of
sight, his other senses must compensate for where his vision leaves
off. Ice climbing is a manifestation of this, as he describes the
perfect sound to hear when laying a climbing axe into a sheet of
“It’s a loud ‘thump’ that sounds like you’re hitting frozen
peanut butter with a sledge hammer,” Weihenmayer said. “It’s a
People often ask him why he climbs mountains if he can’t see it,
“I can hear the mountains and echoes of the mountains in the
air. I hear the snow, I touched the snow, I could feel it under my
feet and in my gloves, I could hear the sound of the Sherpa’s flags
blowing in the wind,” Weihenmayer said. “I get a lot out of the
scenery, it’s just not vision.”
Weihenmayer currently lives in Golden, Colo. with his wife Ellie
and his young daughter Emma. In the fall Weihenmayer plans to
return to Tibet to teach a group of blind Tibetan children to
climb, and eventually lead them on climb up a peak 21,000 feet
“I don’t climb mountains to prove blind people can climb
mountains; I climb mountains because I love it,” Weihenmayer said.
“(Climbing blind) doesn’t reshape people’s perceptions, it shatters
them. So now, people have to rebuild their perceptions of what’s