In 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind person in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In 2008, he completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountain on each continent—when he stood on top of Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest peak in Australia. Additionally, he has ascended dozens of major peaks, rock walls, and ice climbs around the planet. These include the first blind ascent of the 3,000-foot Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, a difficult alpine climb of spectacular Alpamayo in Peru, and an ascent of a rarely-climbed 3,000-foot frozen waterfall in Nepal.
In 2003, Erik competed in Primal Quest, among the toughest adventure races in the world: 457 miles, 9 days, 60,000 feet of elevation gain, and no time-outs. Averaging only two hours of sleep a night, Erik’s team was one of the 42 to cross the finish line out of the 80 elite teams that started. In 2006, Erik founded a first-of-its-kind adventure race, the Adventure Team Challenge, in which teams of able-bodied and disabled athletes compete; his team has won the past three years. In 2010, he completed the Leadville 100 mountain bike race on a tandem, once again becoming the first blind person to complete a world-class competition.
Erik recently finished in second place as part of Team No Limits on ABC’s reality adventure show Expedition Impossible. With skill and determination, his team galloped across deserts on camels and Arabian stallions, kayaked raging whitewater, and overcame incredible challenges. No Limits’ team spirit made them the overwhelming fan favorite and a major source of inspiration for 5 million viewers throughout North America.
A former middle school teacher and wrestling coach, Erik is one of the most exciting and well-known athletes in the world. Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik has become an accomplished mountain climber, paraglider pilot, and skier, who has never let his blindness interfere with his passion for an exhilarating and fulfilling life.
Get to know Erik Weihenmayer
- Birth Date:
September 23, 1968
- Place of Birth:
- Current Home town:
- Primary Sport:
- Specialties within your sport:
Rock, Ice, and Alpine
- Other hobbies or sports:
Whitewater kayaking, tandem mountain biking, backcountry skiing, paragliding, adventure racing
- My favorite Mountain Hardwear products:
I look for highly versatile products so I’m a big fan of the Nitrous Jacket, the Micro Chill pullover, the Micro Stretch pullover, and the Tanglewood pants. For carrying my gear, the Wayback pack is great for skiing and the Scrambler is a go-anywhere-do-anything sort of pack.
- How were you introduced to your sport?
When I was 16 years old, I heard about a program offered by the Caroll Center for the Blind. I signed up and was the youngest participant when we went rock climbing near North Conway NH. The program was meant to help us overcome our fears and see what was possible as a blind person. However, I simply fell in love with the sport. I loved the athleticism and the problem solving of finding my holds with my hands and feet serving as eyes.
- What inspires you?
I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to get through barriers as a blind athlete. It requires building new systems and techniques, assembling great teams, and preparing for specific challenges. For example, when I climbed Losar—a 3,000-foot ice climb in Nepal, I had to discover the most efficient method for moving quickly up the face and saving energy. After much experimentation, this proved to be climbing as a team of three with the leader bringing up two ropes and a partner climbing above me and off to the side in order to give me audible clues. On a face like this, I could be climbing five feet off to the right or left and be climbing grade five instead of grade four. So being able to follow my partner’s line saved tremendous energy and kept me strong for the grade 5+ pitches near the top.
- Which athletes or other individuals have been your biggest source of inspiration?
Terry Fox was my first major inspiration. After losing a leg to cancer, he turned into the storm and attacked head on when he decided to run thousands of miles across Canada. Later, Mark Wellman and Hugh Herr became major influences. Mark was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident yet found a way to climb; over seven days, he made about 7,000 pull ups to climb the 3,000 ft face of El Capitan. Hugh lost both of his feet due to frostbite and went on to become a talented rock climber using prosthetic legs that he developed while earning his PhD at MIT.
- What advice would you give to newcomers to climbing today?
Join a climbing club, take avalanche classes, take anchor courses, and learn as much as you can. Do what it takes to surround yourself with veteran climbers and gain experience. There is a big learning curve in climbing and mistakes can be fatal. So build up to things, take it step by step, and push but not too hard.
- What the first thing you look forward to doing after a long expedition / race?
Playing with my kids and hugging my wife are the greatest joys. But simple pleasures like lying in a park, feeling a soft breeze, and listening to sounds of laughter as kids swing on the monkey bars bring great pleasure.
- How do you balance your training schedule with your “real” job?
Since I travel so much, I am forced to train on the road. Often I work out in a hotel gym or even in my room doing body-weight exercises. I try to maintain a base fitness by going out with friends on sports that are mini-adventures. It doesn’t feel quite as much like training when I’m biking or skiing or kayaking with my amigos.
- In 10 years I hope to be…
Build my non-profit, No Barriers (http://NoBarriersUSA.org), into a major influential organization that has a real impact on people with challenges, which is everyone. My goal is to develop the No Barriers mindset that sets lofty goals, emphasizes innovation, creates support system, and fosters leadership.
- Six-word bio – In exactly six words summarize yourself
Lost my sight, not my vision
- What music gets you fired up?
I admit that I like cheesy 80s work out tunes from the likes of Bon Jovi, Guns and Roses, and Journey.
- If you were a super hero, who would you be?
Daredevil! This Marvel comic superhero fueled my boyhood dreams. I was even featured on the cover of a sports magazine as the “Real Daredevil!”
Catch up with Erik on:
Follow Erik on Facebook:
Erik’s Facebook Page
Follow Erik on YouTube:
Erik’s YouTube Channel
Follow Erik on Twitter:
Erik’s Twitter Account