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Blind Climber describes Everest adventure

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Halfway around the world, the record books of Mount Everest are undergoing a rewrite. Last week, Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to climb the world's highest peak. He's off the mountain now. And he joins us by telephone from Nepal, still at the base of Mount Everest.

Erik, I can't even imagine what this experience must have been like for you. Congratulations. What was it like to reach the peak?

ERIK WEIHENMAYER, BLIND MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: It was so incredible. It was the dream of a lifetime to get to the top. And when I stood up there, I knew I was there, but a part of me almost didn't believe it. A part of me thought I was probably dreaming. And I kept saying to myself: "No you're awake and you actually did it."

LIN: I'm looking at a picture of you taken at the summit. You're wearing all this gear, holding up a sign. Do you -- sitting there like that at the summit, is there a physical sensation of being there that you experienced?

WEIHENMAYER: There is. There is. It's a little bit surreal, because you're breathing in vital oxygen. And the wind is howling. And you're worried about getting down. But, for me, the biggest feeling was a feeling of team accomplishment. We had 19 people get to the summit, 19 amazing teammates.

We had people in the United States, the National Federation of the Blind, who sponsored our climb, praying for us, Allegra allergy medication, who sponsored our documentary, you know, rooting for us.

I felt like, when I got to the top, I was on the shoulders of lots and lots of people. It wasn't just me standing there.

LIN: Erik, I'm looking at video of you now. You're on a ladder. You're crossing over some sort of valley there. The steepness of it is astounding. Were you -- were you ever scared?

WEIHENMAYER: I was scared all the time, yes, because it's a dangerous mountain. There's lots of icefall and huge crevasses that you're jumping over and walking across ladders over them.

And so you have to really be in control of yourself. And so on summit day, when I left, I just kept telling myself: "Be focused. Be full of energy. Keep relaxed. Don't let all those distractions -- the fear and the doubt -- creep into your brain, because that's what ruins you up there."

LIN: Well, without sight, what are the senses that you use to make a climb like this?

WEIHENMAYER: Well, I follow somebody who climbs in front of you with a bell. And they jingle a bell from their ice ax or from their ski pole or from whatever there. They'll just hold it. And I'll listen to them and they'll call out directions.

They'll say, "big drop off" or "steep climb" or you know -- and sometimes you're crossing these very narrow snow bridges. So they tell you me exactly where to step. So it's a huge team process. And that's why I say it was so amazing getting to the summit and hugging everyone and just total celebration, because we had done it all together.

LIN: Oh, that is an amazing example of teamwork.

I'm just curious, at that altitude -- and you're so reliant on all these other senses -- do your senses change: your sense of hearing, your sense of touch?

WEIHENMAYER: Yes, you're very aware -- very aware -- and I was trying to say very balanced. When I get to the south summit, you climb down a little bit and you cross this ridge. And it's only a few feet wide. And there's thousands of thousands of feet on both sides. One side goes all the way down into Tibet. And then you climb a rock face called the Hillary Step. And I flopped myself over.

And I could hear this amazing sense of openness around me, you know, this feeling that there was nothing -- there was almost nothing higher than me in the world. And it was pretty wild.

The 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) high Mount Everest, situated on the Nepal-Tibet border, is the world's highest mountain  

LIN: Erik, what was the first chance you got to talk to your wife? And what was the very first thing that you said to her? She was waiting for you in Golden, Colorado.

WEIHENMAYER: I called her when I got down. And, actually, before I -- when I summited, our base camp manager called her. And he said she screamed so loud she woke up the neighbors and almost broke the windows.


WEIHENMAYER: So she was excited. And then I called her when I got to base camp and I told her I was alive. And she was pretty happy about that.

LIN: Oh, Erik, and your little girl Emma must be so proud of you. Congratulations. And we look forward to talking to you when you get back to the United States.

Erik Weihenmayer...


LIN: ... the first blind climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

• 2001 NFB Everest Expedition
• Mount Everest
• Nepal Government

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