Marin Independent Journal

Conquering Everest is story of friendship
Lucas Valley man helps pal to peak
By Mark Prado
IJ reporter

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - A Marin resident helped realize the dream of a disabled Nepal man over the weekend as the pair reached the summit of Mount Everest.

Tom McMillan, 47, who lives in Lucas Valley, made it to the top Saturday along with friend Nawang Sherpa, 32. While many have made the trek, Nawang's story had a twist. He had lost part of his left leg in a motorcycle accident and made it to the summit with a prosthetic leg.

"This is an example of no matter what your obstacles, you can reach your dreams," said Linda McMillan, who has been in touch with her husband via a satellite phone for the entire trip. "Tom was elated. He said, 'I can't believe we did it.' "

The expedition, dubbed "Friendship Beyond Borders," had its genesis in a 1998 climb of the south face of Annapurna in Nepal. It was there that the McMillans met Nawang, who was a guide for the trip to base camp, and the trio struck up a friendship.

"We had such a good time with him," McMillan said. "He had such a great way with people."

The Marin couple encouraged him to take classes to become a climbing guide who could take people to the summit of Everest, and Nawang did just that.

But less than two years later, Nawang was in a motorcycle accident in Katmandu and his left leg had to be amputated just below the knee.

"Here he had this dream of climbing Everest and it all seemed lost," McMillan said.

In May 2001, Nawang came to the United States and stayed in San Rafael as he was fitted for a prosthetic leg at the University of California at San Francisco.

The prosthesis allowed Nawang to resume his work as a guide at lower elevations, but it seemed his dreams of doing more would not materialize. Not only did there appear to be physical limitations, but there were financial issues as well. A trip up Everest costs tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and expenses.

But in 2002, Duluth, Minn. climber Ed Hommer - also an amputee - took an interest in Nawang and announced they would scale Everest in 2003. In September 2002 tragedy struck. Hommer died while training on a Washington state mountain.

Then, one year ago, Tom McMillan's employer, San Francisco-based AMB Property Corp., offered to pay for a chunk of the trip. Other sponsors quickly came forth and the trek was on.

Last month, the pair arrived at Everest's base camp and began getting acclimated to the altitude. Then they made a run at the top and reached the summit in five days, along with three guides. The group is now descending and McMillan is expected back in Marin at the end of the month.

"They were amazed it went so well, and by how good they felt," McMillan said. "In today's war-torn world, this makes you feel very good. It's a story about friends who care for each other."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at

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