At almost 12,000 feet on the windswept Tibetan plateau sits the Braille Without Borders school for the blind in Lhasa. From May 23rd to June 10th, 2004 I will visit the Braille Without Borders school along with seven of my Everest teammates. With the help of the school teachers, I have selected a small group of six highly motivated blind students to teach my specially adapted hiking and climbing techniques. Some of my techniques include using two long trekking poles to feel the terrain ahead, and following bear bells attached to a leader’s pack. We will undertake a week long training adventure with the students including rock climbing, trekking over a 16,000 foot pass, and a clinic practicing glacier travel. The students will then train through the summer and, in September, (trip dates September 25th – October 20th), we’ll return to Tibet, and lead them on a three-week expedition to the summit of Lhakpa Ri, 23,000 feet. Lhakpa Ri is just north of Mt. Everest and is one of the most spectacular peaks in Tibet.
My upcoming expedition to climb a 23,000-foot peak in Tibetwith six blind Tibetan teenagers may sound a little ambitious, but the plan is inspired by the words of Pasquale Scaturro, our climbing leader on my 2001 Mt. Everest expedition. High up the Lhotse Face, exhausted and oxygen deprived, Pasquale shared with me his reoccurring dream. “It’s a strange dream. You and I are on top of the Hillary Step, and I know we have only a short hike to the summit of Mt. Everest. It almost brings tears to my eyes, because I know if we pull this off, it will be one of the greatest achievements in mountaineering history and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Two days later Pasquale’s dream became fact when, along with 18 trusted teammates, I stood on top of the world, and became the first blind climber to do so. The next year, I fulfilled my seven-year quest to climb the “Seven Summits,” the tallest peaks on each of the seven land continents.
There is a blurry line separating what the world sees as impossible yet what we know in our hearts to be fully possible. After such an extraordinary personal journey, if I can find a way to reach out across race and culture, and shatter the harsh boundaries which have been established through generations for the blind people of Tibet, and pass to them that same sense of joy and achievement with which I have been blessed, It will be the fulfilment of my climbing career and in the words of Pasquale, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” – Erik Weihenmayer