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  April 17, 2001
From: Maurice Peret

This morning, as Erik Weihenmayer and several members of the National Federation of the Blind-Allegra 2001 Everest expedition left for camp 1, they were greeted by a blast of snow from an avalanche off the Lola pass.  Kim Johnson, one of the film crew working on a documentary of the expedition, reported a “dusting” while seeing them off to the edge of the Khumbu ice fall.  The dusting was one of many frequent small avalanches of ice, rock, and powdered snow coming down from the mountain.  These can often be heard during the day and evenings originating from different parts of the mountain.  It sounds a lot like distant thunder crashing.  Even the glacier below our tents and around the camp cracks and shifts during the night.  The team will spend the next week at camp 2 and make excursions to camp 3 to increase their acclimatization in preparing for the push to the summit in just a few weeks. 

The Khumbu icefall is the first 2,000-foot vertical ascent necessary for climbers to cross before taking on the rest of Mount Everest.  The icefall is the first serious test of nerve, strength, and mental fortitude.  It is filled with crevasses, seracs, and  blocks of ice varying in size from a foot tall to as tall as a building. They must be either circumvented or ascended.  The crevasses are crossed using aluminum ladders in varying conditions of repair.  Everyone expected that this would prove to be the most challenging aspect of the mountain for Erik thus far.  Blind people often find that the things they and others anticipated would be difficult or impossible turn out to be relatively uncomplicated. Like the good Federationist he is, Erik gains increasing confidence with each pass through the Khumbu.  Each ascent will take the climbers up through the icefall and then down upon their return to base camp.  The team will cross the Khumbu icefall at least 8 times before they summit Mt. Everest. 

On this beautiful sunny Tuesday morning I decided it was high time I saw for myself what all the fuss was about regarding the icefall. Erik is not the only member of the National Federation of the Blind interested in experiencing Mt. Everest though most of the time I am content to make my contribution safely in base camp. But with climbers Eric Alexander and Brad Bull, Base Camp Manager Reba Bull, and Brown University researchers John McDonagh and Jason Dimmig, I ventured out from the rocky glacier that is Everest base camp and entered the beginning of the Khumbu icefall.  Beneath my feet was a wide, smooth field of snow-covered ice.  Upon reaching several seracs of many different sizes, I changed from the hiking boots I had been wearing to insulated heavy plastic boots, to which were attached a set of crampons.  These are spiked frames that clip onto the boots to provide a better grip on the ice both beneath and in front of the boot.  I tried a few slopes of different inclines, getting used to walking with the crampons on.  I eventually attempted a vertical climb using two ice axes that dug holes into the ice when I swung them like hammers while I dug in with the toes of my cramponed feet. 

For the couple of hours under the bright sunshine that we took turns doing this form of ice-climbing it was fun; however, spending several hours before sunrise doing it would be another story entirely.  My first ice-climbing experience gave me a tiny appreciation of what these courageous men are attempting with each ascent up the mountain towards the summit of the highest point on earth, Everest. 

This could be Erik Weihenmayer’s fifth  summit of seven of the seven continents’ highest peaks.  His and the others’ success on the mountain will tell volumes about the capabilities of blind people.  Perhaps even more important is the fact that Erik’s success will chip away at the obstacles, real and imagined, which until now have stood in the way of blind people as we have dreamed of what we can do. 

In the future many other adventures will help shatter the misperceptions that have long been held about the capabilities of blind people.  Wherever they exist, the National Federation of the Blind will be present to help broadcast the word that blind trail-blazers like Erik Weihenmayer have changed the rules in every walk of life.  Together, step by step, we are changing what it means to be blind. 

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