An inner light in scaling Mt. Everest

What does a blind person "see" while he's literally standing on top of the world?

"A sense of peace, an amazing sense of accomplishment ... and he can even feel the wide open space," says Ed Weihenmayer, father of Erik, who on May 25 became the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest. Erik was en route to the US from Nepal at press time, so his father relayed what his son had told him.

Erik followed the sounds of bells tied to the jackets of his climbing mates. He also listened to their explanations of the boulders, trail bottlenecks, or dropoffs that lay ahead.

The rock and ice climber has also climbed many difficult and technical peaks worldwide, most of which had never been attempted by someone blind.

"Erik thrives on figuring out ways to make sports accessible to him," says his father.

For example, when Erik climbs ice, "he taps the ice with a hammer, using the pitch to hear whether or not it is a sturdy ice path," Mr. Weihenmayer says.

The National Federation of the Blind sponsored the expedition.

Erik, however, wasn't the only one to set a record in May. His trail mate Sherman Bull, a 64-year-old from Connecticut, became the oldest person to scale Everest. A 16-year-old Nepalese boy became the youngest. And a French pair became the first couple to parachute off the top.

Erik, in his 30s, is on track to become one of the youngest people to scale the Seven Summits, the tallest peaks on all seven continents, Weihenmayer says.

Erik is a former school teacher and wrestling coach, and lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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