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The north face of Mt. Kenya, showing the Northeast Pillar (5.11a A1, 2,000', fifteen pitches). Erik Weihenmayer and partners Charley Mace and Hans Florine took this line to make the first blind ascent of the twin summits: Neilon (17,020') and Batian (17,057'). The descent from Batian, they said, required a "very convoluted rappel." [Photo] Hans Florine
SUCCESS IS BLIND: FIRST SIGHTLESS ASCENT OF MT. KENYA
Posted on: September 26, 2006
Erik Weihenmayer and Charley Mace on the summit of Mt. Kenya (17,057'). Weihenmayer had just completed the first sightless ascent, adding to an already-impressive ticklist that includes the Seven Summits and The Nose; he leads harder than many sighted climbers do. [Photo] Hans Florine
Last year, indefatigable blind climber Erik Weihenmayer—who completed the first sightless ascents of the Seven Summits in 2002—had made what he and his partners termed the first "all-gimp" ascent of the Cassin Route (5.11/5.9 A0) on Italy's Cima Ovest di Lavaredo (2973m) in the Dolomites, climbing unassisted with a blind Austrian climber, Andy Holzer, and a double-leg amputee, Hugh Herr. In August 2006, Weihenmayer returned to the Dolomites with Holzer to make the first unassisted sightless ascent of the Red Tower (2704m), via the Suedrampe (5.8, six pitches [including two traverses, where they laid their rope out on the large summit plateau to mark the way back to the rappels]). Holzer, who had climbed the route previously with a sighted partner, was able to shout out moves to Weihenmayer.
Later that same month, Weihenmayer, climbing with his longtime partner, Charley Mace, and speed legend Hans Florine, who had accompanied Weihenmayer on his ascent of The Nose, became the first blind person to reach Mt. Kenya's twin summits, Nelion (17,020') and Batian (17,057'). A year ago, an ice storm had defeated Weihenmayer and Mace 1,000 feet below the top. Now, they started back up the north face, via the Northeast Pillar (5.11a A1, 2,000', fifteen pitches). After fixing ropes on the first few pitches, the team spent three days stormbound at Shipton's Hut (14,000'), then began climbing again on August 29 at 5:30 a.m., reaching the summit of Nelion at 10 p.m. The day had been almost too warm and bright; drenched from the thawing ice and snow, they huddled in a small hut until dawn, then rappelled 300 feet to The Gates of the Mist, where a knife-edged ridge and two pitches (5.7) brought them at last to Batian and the realization of their most recent dream.