When he reached the summit of Mt. Everest back in 2001, mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer redefined our perceptions of what a blind person is capable of accomplishing. By becoming the first visually impaired person to climb the highest mountain on the planet, he also managed to become an inspiration for thousands of people, many of whom will never set foot on a mountain. Since then, Weihenmayer has continued to push the envelope in terms of outdoor adventures, climbing numerous other mountains, cycling through Vietnam and even competing in grueling adventure races. Now, a recent article in the New York Times has given us a glimpse at what he has planned next – a challenging whitewater kayaking excursion through the Grand Canyon.
Weihenmayer took up kayaking four years ago and has continued to hone his skills ever since. Typically paddlers depend on their eyes to help find the best route down a river, but Erik says that he has learned to sense what is around him by listening to sounds and feeling how is boat and paddle are reacting to the water. Additionally, a close friend follows behind in another kayak and verbally gives him directions on which way to turn and how far he needs to travel. Over time, this system has allowed the blind adventurer to become quite adept at the sport.
Still, kayaking through the Grand Canyon won’t be easy. The Colorado River can generate 15-foot waves at certain points and the water if filled with large boulders just waiting to smash the boats of any unsuspecting paddlers. In order to prepare for those conditions Weihenmayer has been training at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in North Carolina, where he can face similar situations in relative safety.
If his training continues to progress as expected, Weihenmayer says that he hopes to take on the Grand Canyon sometime next year. The expedition will require approximately three weeks to complete and will cover roughly 277 miles in the process. During that time Erik and the rest of his team will have to be completely self supported and will only be in contact with the outside world via satellite phone.
Weihenmayer is quoted in the New York Times as saying “This is 10 times scarier than the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some pretty scary things.”
Taking one look at his resume of past adventures, I’d say that quote puts it all in perspective. If this is scarier than climbing Everest, you can imagine the challenges that he is anticipating.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo Credit: Erik Weihenmayer]