Scarpa North America Blog

Erik Weihenmayer’s No Barriers Life

Mar. 18th 2015

From the Seven Summits to sheer ice faces and the class IV rapids on the Grand Canyon, Erik Weihenmayer has proven that there really is no place too far to explore. He’s circumnavigated the globe countless times on various expeditions, ticking off epic ascents of some of the world’s hardest climbs. While the well known sends and daring river descents make headlines, Erik recently spoke with us about his adventures that stand out for different reasons. The very reasons why we all step into the unknown and seek new adventures.

Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans, and Eric Alexander on the summit of Mt. Everest.

Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans, and Eric Alexander on the summit of Mt. Everest. Photo Credit: Luis Benitez

We caught up with Erik in between his recent trip to Taiwan and upcoming travel with family to hear more about his No Barriers lifestyle, and why he wouldn’t have it any other way.

So what are your top three Most Memorable “No Barriers” Adventures, and why?

The first adventure is a personal one. On our way to Everest in 2001, I passed by the capital of the Khumbu region in Himalaya on the way to Everest. A friend of mine looked up and saw this incredible ice face from across the valley. It looked around 1,000 meters, totally vertical, then overhanging, then vertical again. It was wild, I thought how cool it would be to climb that.

It’s called Losar, probably at least a 2500-foot ice line. I came back in 2006 to try to climb it. It’s one of those beautiful modern climbs because it just ends on the top of a ridge, it doesn’t really end on a summit but it is magnificent. On that trip, it was too warm, and these giant daggers of ice, truck sized, could come off and crush you. 90% chance you’ll stand on top, 10% you get crushed by ice, not great odds.

Climbing Losar. Photo Credit: Rob Raker

Losar in all its glory. Photo Credit: Rob Raker

We came back the next year and had perfect conditions. The temps were right, and we climbed 15 pitches of ice, all from 3+ to grade 5+ ice, or maybe even 6. After an exhausting day, we bivyed on the side of the ice line. We woke up shivering the next morning in our lousy sleeping bags ready to do the last few pitches, up and around these wildly overhanging mushrooms of ice. It was such a fun adventure, and I bet the thing had been been climbed less than 10 times. You’re purely climbing for yourself. You’re not trying to get to the top of the world, you’re not proving anything to yourself. You’re just climbing for the joy of exploration and adventure.

Erik heading up Losar. Photo Credit: Rob Raker

My second pick would have to be when I met this blind guy, Andy Holzer, rock climbing at a No Barriers Summit in the Dolomites of Italy. What are the chances? He’s a great climber from Austria. We we both so inspired that we decided to climb just the two of us, as he says “two blinds,” the next year. I headed back to the Dolomites and we did a five pitch climb near his house called The Red Tower. He had an amazing photographic memory for the route. As a warm up, I climbed it the day before, then we climbed it together switching leads.

Andy Hozler and Erik climbing in the Dolomites. Photo Credit: Charley Mace

At the top we had to cross a summit plateau, so we anchored a rope and flaked it out to find our way back. We were calling each other Hansel and Gretal! Ha. Eventually we found our way across this rock crevasse that was separating the plateau from another section. It was only 8 feet wide and we had to find a boulder wedged in the crevasse. It was very cool, you know just two blind guys climbing. When you’re a blind climber you’re kind of like a Jamaican bobsledder, you know. There’s not too many of us.

Erik and Andy Hozler climbing in the Dolomites. Photo Credit: Charley Mace

The last memorable climb was during a No Barriers summit in Winter park two years ago. We were taking people up one of the ski mountains. We had people that were using their arms cranking up the mountain with prosthetic limbs or crutches and blind people with trekking poles. There was this one guy, Kyle Maynard, born without most of his arms or legs, who wanted to go with us to the summit of a peak, so we devised a system, wrapping bath towels, foam and packing tape around his stumps. He crabbed his way up the mountain for 8 hours, over rocks and snow, through mud, and he finally made it to the summit together with the group.

Kyle Maynard hikes up a mountain in Winter Park during his first No Barriers Summit. Photo Credit: No Barriers Collection

It was really powerful for all of us, even made more so by the fact that Winter Park was his first hiking experience and the next January he scrambled up Kilimanjaro in about 16 days.

A lot of it is about being in the mountains, but also it’s the people that you meet and the people that your life intersects with, who become the best friends you could ever have.

What does a life of adventure mean to you?

It’s really about exploring the world and the incredible things that it has to offer. For me, for instance, I just got an invitation to talk in Taiwan. After doing some research I realized that there are 13,000 ft. mountains, I never would have guessed. I gave a presentation to a bunch of corporate leaders and then got to climb these amazing sea cliffs for 3 days. One side of your mind wants to keep you safe, and the other wans to explore. Exploring what your life means and the connection with the natural world, that’s an adventurous life for me.

What advice would you give to people who think that they can’t participate in an “adventurous” life – whether they feel held back by age, physical ability or inexperience?

I’ve climbed mountains with people who’ve had 3 strokes, people terrified of heights, blind kids who’ve never been off the pavement and people with heart transplants who have scaled El Capitan. Adventure doesn’t mean you’re climbing Everest or the kayaking the Grand Canyon. Adventure is very personal, it could just be getting on a bike on the path, or just taking a walk. or like Kyle getting up the ski hill in Winter Park.

It’s not about what you can’t do, it’s about taking that first step.

A participant cycling during a No Barriers program. Photo Credit: No Barriers Collection.

 What’s next on your adventure tick list for 2015 and beyond? 

I’d like to climb some north faces in Europe, maybe the Eiger or Walker Spur. I’m training for one of those big faces, but we’ll have to see what has the best conditions. This summer I’m heading to Italy to climb Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites. I’ll also be helping lead a No Barriers Warrior Team of injured vets this summer to climb the tallest peak in WY. I’m heading to Norway next spring to ice climb, and may do a classic ski tour from Chamonix to Zermatt. I’ll run out of cartilage before I run out of things to do.

What’s your favorite go-to SCARPA shoe?

SCARPA is really a comprehensive footwear brand. I climbed Mt. Katadan in Maine about a month ago. It was a four day adventure with some beautiful alpine routes up there. The summit was a chilly -30 degrees, so I was using my SCARPA Phantom 6000. I’ve been Backcountry skiing all season in my Maestrales, and was climbing in Taiwan using my SCARPA Helix. I even run with dog in my SCARPA Ignite. SCARPA has been tremendously supportive of all of my adventures over the years, and provided quality products to make them possible.

 Tell us about No Barriers, and how it’s helping others to get outside and tackle new experiences.

I went rock climbing in 2000 with one of my heroes, Mark Wellman who broke his back as a young man and is a paraplegic. With a special system of ropes, pulleys and ascenders, we climbed on of the Fisher Towers outside Moab and I was just blown away. Shortly after, I started No Barriers to help people with all kinds of challenges, and to provide ideas for breaking barriers and tapping into the power of the human spirit. It’s really about living a purposeful life. We also help vets who are wounded both physically and emotionally get back on their feet, and use the beauty of the outdoors as a platform for inspiration.

Kayaking during a No Barriers event. Photo Credit: No Barriers Collection

We’ll work with kids who are blind or deaf, and normal teenagers that are just lost. During our annual four-day summit, we’ll have 1,000 people from all over the world, from a little person, someone who is blind or missing their legs to someone struggling with obesity. At the No Barriers Summit we have powerful speakers, inspiring films, hikes, adaptive mountain biking and rock climbing as well as kayaking and water skiing. It’s where innovation, adventure and the outdoors meet.

This year’s No Barriers Summit is in Park City, UT – July 9-12. You can get more info and sign up at: www.nobarrierssummit.org

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