by Ronald E. Milliman
What does a blind person do when confronted by a mountain? For Erik Weihenmayer, the answer is very simple: "You just climb it!" Erik lost his sight at age 13, but with the support of his parents, he has become the first, and only, blind person to scale the highest mountains on all seven continents. In 1985, Erik learned to climb at a summer camp for the blind, and he has been climbing ever since.
In 1995, Erik reached the peak of Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska, and in 1996, he scaled the top of California's El Capitan. Then, in 1997, he accomplished the greatest feat of all by getting married to his wife, Ellen Reeve, on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania! Later, in 1997, Erik reached the zenith of Mount Kilimanjaro. He climbed to the peak of Argentina's Aconcagua in 1999 and to the top of Canada's Polar Circus in 2000. Later that same year, he conquered Nepal's Ama Dablam as a part of his training for the Everest climb. In March 2001, Erik began his Mount Everest expedition and completed that feat of topping Mount Everest on May 25. He tackled and conquered Russia's Mount Elbrus in 2002, and later that same year, he scaled Australia's Mount Kosciusko. More recently, in 2006, he went to Africa to complete an expedition that took him and his mountain- climbing team to the top of 17,300-foot Mount Kenya.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik about his latest excursion to Tibet where he and a group of six blind teenagers scaled Mount Everest. They climbed to a height of over 21,000 feet. The accomplishment is captured by his latest documentary, "BlindSight." The movie is set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Himalayas, and follows the riveting adventure of Erik, his team of specialists, and six Tibetan teens who set out to climb the 23,000-foot Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest. The movie fully describes how Erik and his team went to Tibet to visit a school for the blind and recruited a group of six teenagers who wanted, and were willing, to attempt to scale Mount Everest with Erik's tutelage.
"BlindSight" was released last month and is fully audio described. I had the pleasure of previewing the movie and found it fascinating. It reveals how Erik was invited to the school for the blind in Tibet by the school's students and creator, Sabriye Tenberken, who is also a blind educator. Sabriye is from Germany, where she tried to join Germany's equivalent of the Peace Corps when she turned 18, and was rejected because of her blindness. She migrated on her own from Germany to Tibet, where she went from village to village locating blind children. She then established a school for the blind, and taught them how to read and write braille.
The movie delineates the extraordinary challenges and tribulations faced by the six teens, including how one of them had been sold by his parents to become a beggar on the streets and eventually ended up at the Tibetan school for the blind. Believed by many Tibetans to be possessed by demons, the blind children are shunned by their relatives and villagers, and generally rejected by the society in which they live. "BlindSight" depicts how these six teenagers are, literally, rescued by Sabriye Tenberken, and shown how to achieve their tallest challenges by Erik and his team of expert mountain climbers.
Climbing tall mountains isn't the only thing Erik does. He is also a long-distance cyclist, skydiver, accomplished snow skier, a marathon runner, former middle-school teacher, wrestling coach, and author of two books. His mountain-climbing adventures are also featured in another documentary, "Farther than the Eye Can See" (2003).
I urge you to make an effort to see this movie. I believe you will enjoy it as much as I did, especially since it is audio-described. Watch for it in your area, and if there is a theater near you that has descriptive audio capability, contact them and ask if they will show the movie. This could also be an excellent documentary for universities and colleges to show as a part of their various diversity programs. Theaters interested in showing this movie should contact Richard Abramowitz at (914) 273-9545 or e-mail him at [email protected].