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Blind Military Veteran Climbs Mount Everest

by Nolan Hawk

A blind military veteran managed to climb through 75 miles of ice and snow to summit Mount Everest.

Lonnie Bedwell, a former Navy Petty Officer, lost his vision during a hunting accident in 1997, but he didn’t allow his disability to keep him from excelling at extreme sports.

Since losing his sight, he has climbed some of North America’s highest mountains and kayaked through some of the worlds most challenging whitewater, according to his biography on Sightless Summits.

The organization has a mission to “inspire and serve disabled veterans through project-based adventures.”

Sightless Summits was formed by Bryan Hill, a California based physical therapist and adventurer seeker, who started the organization to facilitate life-changing outdoors experiences for blind people.

Bedwell, Hill, and fellow Sightless Summits team member Michael Neal, a seasoned mountaineer, tackled Alaska’s Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, in 2022.

A year later, they headed to the Himalayas to scale Mount Everest, which at an elevation of 29,032 feet, is the highest mountain above sea level on the planet.

The trek took the group 45 days to accomplish, which is nearly double the time it takes for sighted climbers to make it to the top.

Bedwell navigated the 75 miles of icy terrain by hanging onto Hill’s backpack and listening to his very specific instructions on about how he needed to place his feet to avoid falling.

“Lift your foot up one more foot and a little out to the right and a little more forward because it’s imperative you make the right steps,” Hill would tell Bedwell.

When they reached the top a month-and-a-half after venturing out from base camp, Bedwell became the fourth blind person to reach the top of Mount Everest.

“We did together what a blind man could not have done by himself,” he said about the expedition.

“Every single one of us out there wants at some point in their life wants someone to believe in us and give us a chance to show what we can truly do.”

The veteran and single father of three girls holds world records for making the first blind kayak descents on the Grand Canyon, Zambezi, and Gauley Rivers, despite never having kayaked before his hunting accident.

He successfully paddled a 225 mile stretch of the Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon as part of team in August 2013, then took the challenge on again in September of the following year, with fellow blink kayaker Erik Weihenmayer.

With the help of a guides, who gave them instructions on what to expect from the dangerous whitewater, the pair paddled 277 miles in 21 days.

“When one guy who’s blind goes down and kayaks the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to write him off as an anomaly: ‘That guy’s just crazy.’ But two blind guys doing it, [and] it becomes more of a story about what’s possible for a lot of people,” Weihenmayer told the National Geographic.

The outlet definitely didn’t write Bedwell off, they named him their 2015 Adventurer of the Year as a result of the trip.

He plans to continue smashing records by attempting to climb Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s tallest mountain, then ski to the bottom. Sightless Summits is currently fundraising to support the upcoming expedition.

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