Monday, January 7, 2008

Thinking Big

The idea of climbing Mount Everest came to us slowly. In the years after we finally scaled Aconcagua, we kept looking around the globe for new challenges. We didn’t have a checklist or a specific dream we were looking to fulfill, we just never felt like we were finished. Along the way, we’d picked up the idea of finishing the seven summits, the highest points on each of the continents. In addition to Denali and Aconcagua, we’d completed Kilimanjaro in Africa and Elbrus in Russia. There was one glaring exception, which happened to be the highest in the world.

Erik and I got together in May of 2000 to try and find the next adventure. We both agreed we’d accomplished some big things, but now we wanted to do something outrageous, something no one thought we could finish. This time, there was no doubt as to where we’d go. There was only one place, one peak, one summit that would satisfy us-- Everest.

Of course we were familiar with the mountain. As climbers we’d read all the books and seen all the movies. We had friends and acquaintances who’d tried the mountain and even a few that
had made it to the top. But could we realistically give it a go?

We poured ourselves into the task of learning more about it. We talked about all the technical and logistical difficulties we’d face, along with problems we probably hadn’t even thought of that were bound to pop up. In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to forgive ourselves if we didn’t at least give it a try.

To embark upon an Everest expedition is a massively expensive undertaking. Flights, gear, Sherpa assistance, and especially permits from the Nepali government are all heavy costs. Just to get there and back would cost more than most families spend on a home. We knew that in order to raise the kind of sponsorship money we’d need, we’d have to go public with our goal.

We also knew the moment we did, there would be no shortage of people telling us it was a bad idea, and we weren’t disappointed.

Within a matter of days, a small army of outspoken doubters came out of the woodwork. Many well-known Everest experts went on the record saying it was foolish and dangerous to try to take a blind man to the world’s highest point. Many suggested, either subtly or directly, that Erik would almost certainly die, and possibly the rest of the team as well. They said we didn’t realize what we were in for and, while we’d had some success, this would be impossible. They pointed out most sighted climbers couldn’t make it to the top. They went on and on, publicly and privately. Erik and I must have heard a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t work. We listened to their concerns, but we didn’t agree. After all we’d been through together, there just wasn’t room for their disbelief. They were experts on Everest, but they weren’t experts
on us.

Because we believed in ourselves, we found others who believed in us, too. It began with our families and friends, who pitched in from the start with emotional support and encouragement.
From there, it spread to others who heard about our ambitions. One by one, climbers signed on to be a part of our team. Major sponsors, some of whom had never worked with us before, lined
up behind us. Many had never funded a climbing expedition, but they pledged their money to help us do the impossible.

In the end, I think the support we got from everyone who helped us was worth much more than the money and gear they gave. We didn’t want to rest on our past success. To go further and higher, we needed to surround ourselves with people who weren’t afraid to do something that seemed impossible. They shared our vision to send a blind man to the top of the world.

We’d set a huge goal for ourselves, and if we were going to fail, it was going to be on the way to the top of the world, not at home thinking about it.