Climbing the Highest Mountain in the World without Sight: An interview with one of the Blind Man’s Guides

Chris Morris. Photo by Didrik Johnck.

Chris Morris. Photo by Didrik Johnck.

On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind man to reach the most daunting summit in the world; Mount Everest. This incredible man was guided by another incredible man named Chris Morris (currently a physical trainer at Mountain Edge Fitness, Boulder, CO). I was lucky enough to interview Chris and learn about the extraordinary, first-hand experience.  Chris began rock climbing at the age of 12, and shortly after he was leading troubled youth (even murder criminals) on wilderness trips. After moving to Alaska and becoming an apprentice guide on Denali, Chris was spending up to 42 days on the ice; ‘’Madness when I look back on it,” he remembers. Then, he started doing trips to South America in epic quests for the summit of Aconcagua. This is where he met the blind adventurer.

In 1995 Chris’ boss offered a blind guy who wanted to climb Aconcagua. “Many [guides] were hesitant but I figure, what the hell. I didn’t figure a blind guy would fall in a crevasse any more so than a sighted guy. I remember Erik Weihenmayer after landing on the Kahiltna Glacier said, ‘now Chris I don’t except you to treat me any differently  than anyone else.’ I told him that was a damn good thing cause I didn’t plan to, and I put a shovel in his hands and told him to start digging out tent platforms. We pretty much hit off straight away.”

Erik and Chris’ relationship quickly transformed from client to friend as they climbed mountains like Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Elbrus in Russia. All the while, preparing for the biggest climb possible; Mount Everest. Here’s what Chris had to say about the enormous endeavor:

Chad Dionigi: How long did Erik Weihenmayer train before the climb?
Chris Morris: Training is kind of an ongoing thing as a climber. It’s a life style.

CD: What are the hardest challenges a blind man has while climbing a big mountain?
CM: Biggest challenges change from place to place but uneven terrain especially big talus fields are a real nightmare for him. Plus is slows the pace to nothing so guiding a blind person you have to take those delays into account. I frequently lose my voice on those expeditions because you are talking and giving directions nonstop in usually very cold dry air.

CD: What was the scariest moment?
CM: We’ve certainly had some scary moments…rock and ice fall along with avalanche are my biggest fears. Crevasse fall is a concern as well especially if you are traveling unroped.

CD: How long did it take from base camp to reach the summit?
CM: Well when doing a high mountain like Everest we’d use an acclimatization technique call carry high sleep low. You basically carry loads to the next camp, return to sleep then move to the camp you just stocked and repeat the process over and over. With blocks of rest days in-between. So how long?….I can’t give you an actual number, it took just over two and a half months.