Since Pelion

I like to think that the offerings on the summit to the four directions, to the heavens and earth spread in distance and time planted seeds of change and challenge. Since Pelion, individuals with disabilities have climbed the biggest cliffs and the highest mountains.

1990 Peace Climb

Bud Krogh and Warren Thompson, two of the support people, reflected on Pelion’s use of a mountain climbing expedition as a social statement and conceived the idea of a climb to support world peace.  They thought about a climb of Mt Everest with a team made up of members from the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the United States, the three largest protagonists during the Cold War period.  In addition to the summit another objective was cleaning up the trash accumulating from years of climbing expeditions.  They approached Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts with the idea. 

Jim is a power house in negotiation skills and Dianne an artful planner.  The two of them orchestrated one of the most historic efforts in the stimulation of world peace known as the 1990 Peace Climb. Jim chronicles in his book, Life On the Edge:Memoirs of Everest and Beyond, his tireless globe hopping efforts to allow the governments to participate with each other and save political face

Mt Rainier was the training ground for the international team members.

On Everest it had been the coldest Spring in living memory, capped by the longest period of sustained high winds ever experienced, as the jet stream scoured the upper reaches of Everest continuously for more than70 days.  At one point, the winds above the North Col were so strong that a strapping, 250 pound full-back of a climber, carrying a 50 pound load, was literally picked up off his feet by the wind and flown at the end of his safety line like a kite! 

Warren wrote to me two stories about events on Everest that reminded him of the Native American Ceremony provided by Joe Washington. He said the news of the winds blowing a climber off his feet had a dramatic effect on the Soviet climbers at Base Camp, who were preparing for their forthcoming trek up the mountain to stock Camp 5.  They decided they needed something much more fortifying than the standard Base Camp menu would afford.  So, they "bribed" the Base Camp jeep driver to make a trip to the nearest village and purchase two sheep.  As the Soviets were about to "dispatch" the hapless sheep in front of the Base Camp cook tent, one of the Chinese (Tibetan) climbers saw what was taking place and sounded the alarm.  Instantly, the entire Chinese team scrambled out of their tents, clamoring about the sacrilege that was about to transpire.  They explained, in near panic, that Mount Everest was the "Goddess Mother of the Earth" and that this place, at her very feet, was the Holiest of land.  As Buddhists believe that all life is sacred, killing the sheep here would constitute a grievous offense in the presence of the Goddess Mother.  They implored the Soviets not to commit this transgression, as the Goddess Mother would surely vent her wrath on the entire expedition with calamitous effect. 

Somewhat perplexed by the commotion, the Soviets conceded that they would transport the sheep further down the mountain in the morning to do their "dirty business".  The Tibetans happily relinquished the fight and retired to their tents -- whereupon the Soviets led the sheep out of sight, behind the cook tent, and promptly killed them. 

Within the hour, streams of menacing black clouds tumbled over the ridges surrounding Base Camp, filling the Rongbuk glacier valley from rim to rim.  Heavy snow began falling, followed by intense gale-force winds, whipping up a frightful blizzard, knocking down tents and blowing supplies helter-skelter in every direction (some of which were found days later on the valley walls more than a thousand feet above Base).  But, most frightening of all was the artillery barrage of lightning bolts striking everywhere at once -- the first one taking out the radio antenna in a deafening, blinding flash.  The storm lasted for three days, and at the exact hour the sheep had been killed, it suddenly dissipated, evaporating into the mists and leaving behind all manner of destruction.  Even the upper camps on the mountain had not been spared.  The cardinal rule, adopted by unanimous consent of all the citizens of Base Camp, thereafter became "No more sheep"!

Subsequently, the climb progressed slowly and painfully up the mountain, fighting the incessant jet stream winds on the upper slopes with every step.   Jim Whittaker began to worry that a summit bid might not be possible.  The last 1000 feet up the summit ridge would be completely exposed and virtually impassible under such conditions.  In an evening satellite phone call to his wife Dianne Roberts, at their home in Port Townsend.  Dianne reminded Jim of the spiritual intervention on the Pelion climb. He wondered if Dianne might be able to contact Joe Washington and request a "stop the wind" ceremony.  Dianne said she would try. 

Dianne found that Joe Washington had passed away two years before.  She then called Susan Page and Jake Page, two close friends of Jim and Dianne.  Jake had been editor of the Smithsonian Magazine and for several years had been working on projects with southwest Indians.  They put Dianne in contact with a spiritual leader on the Navajo reservation. When she stated her request, she was told  that the Wind was the most forceful and strong-willed of all the four Elements (Earth, Wind, Fire and Water).  "You cannot tell the Wind to stop," he said.  "You must appeal to his ego.  You must tell him how great and powerful he is.  You must express your amazement that he can, so quickly and easily, assert dominion over any place on Earth with his awesome power.  And, you must exclaim that even the apex of Earth's domain (Mount Everest), has been humbled by his might, and wonder what will be the next place to experience his indomitable strength."  With that, he said he would make such a supplication to the Wind.

          The first summit attempt was scheduled for the next day.  At sunrise, Everest dawned in clear, azure skies.  There was no banner cloud blowing from Everest's summit -- as there had been for every one of the preceding 70 days.  The mountain was placid beyond belief. Jim was ebullient. He immediately called Dianne to congratulate her, but as he tried to announce the good news, Dianne interrupted, saying: "Jim! You're going to have to speak louder!  There's a tremendous wind storm here.  It's knocking down trees and threatening to tear the roof off!  I can barely hear you!" 

Mt. Everest stayed clear and calm for the next 10 days straight.  The expedition placed 21 climbers on the summit, including the first two Soviet climbers to summit without supplemental oxygen, the first Soviet woman to summit Mt. Everest, and the first American to summit solo, without oxygen and setting a new record by ascending directly from Camp 6 to the summit, bypassing Camp 7, and descending all the way down to Camp 5 in a single day.  Consequently, the 1990 Mt. Everest Peace Climb is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful mountaineering expedition in history.   

 

Transcendence

In Warren Thompson’s reflections on the descent from Pelion he touched on the transcendent connections between the mountaineer’s joy of the summit to non-mountaineers.  He experienced another transcendent experience during the Peace Climb.

 “While summit preparations were in their final stages, I received a fax (on our satellite communications system) from a Fourth Grade elementary school teacher in Florida.  She wrote that her class had been following our expedition for several months and had charted our progress up the mountain on a large drawing of  Mt. Everest.  She noted that our original objective had been to reach the summit by the 20th anniversary of Earth Day -- the 22nd of April.  That date had passed and there had been no news reports from the mountain.  She said that one of her pupils was a young boy named Luke.  Luke had been the victim of severe child abuse and had been removed from his parents' custody at the beginning of the school year.  Luke had not spoken a single word since that day.  That morning, when he came into class, he raised his hand (for the first time during the entire school year) and said:  "Do you think they made it?"  I was overwhelmed.  My heart ached!  I was choked with emotion.  I could not believe that climbing a mountain, 10,000 miles away, could have such meaning to him that it would transcend the pain of his trauma. She wanted to know if we could provide her -- and Luke -- with an update.  From that day until the end of the expedition, I sent daily updates to her class.  At the end of the climb, I sent Luke an expedition poster signed by the entire team, along with this message:  "Whatever you dream, you can accomplish!"

I should have said that if you pursue your dreams, you can accomplish much more than you ever dream possible.  I dreamed of putting Americans, Soviets and Chinese climbers together on top of the world's highest peak, to demonstrate what can be accomplished by dedication to a common purpose.  What we accomplished was much more than that for an abused child half way around the globe.”

 

Arm Power

On June 18, 2000, Pete Rieke a paraplegic powered his way to the summit of Rainier using a sled with spiked, tractor-like treads called a snowpod. The treads were driven with a rotating arm crank like a bicycle wheel.  Pete was paralyzed from the waist down in a rock climbing accident in 1994.  Fellow workers and climbing friends help design and develop his snowpod.  They also served as guides, provided support by anchoring ropes for safety and moving the anchors as needed and routes. 

 

Top With No View

On July 30, 2003 a blind climber, Erik Weihenmeyer, made it to the summit of Mt Everest. As in Pelion, the only thing he could not do was see the view.