Flag from Carlton VFW close to Mt. Everest summit

Cloquet prosthetic expert waiting for satellite call from summit of world's tallest mountain

Mike Sylvester
The Pine Journal
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 12th, 2004 12:05:28 PM

CLOQUET - It’s a long way from the Carlton VFW to the top of Mt. Everest, but within the next three weeks a Minnesota Flag will have successfully made the journey.

When it does, it will be the first time the Minnesota flag has ever graced the summit of the world’s largest mountain.

The flag is making its journey courtesy of Nepalese trekking guide Nawang Sherpa, who is carrying the flag for Cloquet resident Tom Halvorson. Nawang lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident several years ago, so Halvorson designed a prosthetic limb that has allowed him endure the extreme conditions that surround mountain climbing.

Halvorson had sent a similar flag with Duluth resident and double-amputee Ed Hommer during a Mt. Everest expedition two years ago, but Hommer never made it to the top and was killed a year later in a tragic mountain climbing accident.

“Ed brought one with him, but he never made it to the top,” Halvorson recalled. “This is always something Ed wanted to do, so I got one from the VFW in Carlton and it’s with them right now. It could be at the top of Mt. Everest within the next few weeks.”

Halvorson said the expedition plans to hoist the flag at the top of Mt. Everest and will then take a photo of the flag and the group at the summit. They are planning to sign the flag and then return it and a photo to Halvorson when the trip is finished next month.

“It’s been real enjoyable to be a part of this,” Halvorson said. “They’ve all been doing really well.”

Halvorson previously worked for Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics in Duluth, but recently started his own company in Duluth – Northern Orthotic and Prosthetic Center. Duluthian Gary Francisco is a co-owner.

“It’s been real interesting, but it’s been real well received by the community,” he said. “It’s gone pretty well.”

Nawang is part of an expedition led by Tom McMillan of San Francisco. The group began its climb on March 14, and have currently established a base camp at 23,500 feet. They are planning to establish a camp at 26,300 feet during the next week, and will make their push to the summit (29,035 feet) when the weather allows.

“The weather on the mountain won’t be very good for the next week or so,” explained Halvorson, who has talked with the group on satellite phone several times. “As soon as the weather clears, they’re going to establish a camp at 26,300 feet and then they’ll make a summit push.”

“Right now, our team and all the expedition teams are pondering the same questions,” said Tom McMillan, in an update posted on his Web site at on Monday afternoon. “How long will this week’s weather window stay open? Will it be long enough for us to try for the summit? The right guess will result in summit success and a safe return; the wrong guess will mean an expensive aborted attempt and danger. Everyone pours over the same stream of weather data, then weighs other factors that might apply to some groups.” 

“This week it appears that the winds will drop for just a few days,” McMillan added. “Some have chosen to seize this opportunity and go for the summit, others have chosen to wait.”

Halvorson said Nawang has not encountered any problems with his prosthetic leg. The advanced design and sturdy materials of the prosthesis have allowed him to climb at a rate similar to any other expedition member. “Nawang is doing well and prosthetically he’s doing absolutely marvelous,” Halvorson said. “he’s got some blisters on his good foot, but in my eyes, that’s a lot better than having problems with his prosthetic foot.”

Despite the success of the group, Halvorson said he still worries that something could happen to Nawang or his prosthetic leg.

“When you have a patient on a mountain, you worry, but we’ve tried to prepare for everything,” Halvorson admitted. “His prosthesis should insulate him from the cold, and as long as that happens, he’s going to have decent circulation. We just have to make sure to expect the unexpected.”

Halvorson has worked in the prosthetic field for the last 27 years. During that time he’s encountered numerous inspirational patients and has helped them lead normal lives. Technological advancements in the last few years have allowed today’s patients to achieve even more remarkable feats, like climbing Mt. Everest.

“It gives you a lot of satisfaction when you see a person evaluate what they want to do and then you build a prosthesis around that,” Halvorson said. “This has really been a big thrill, but just helping the average person do what they want to do is rewarding enough for me.”

Halvorson admitted he’s a bit anxious for the group to reach the top of the mountain, but he added that he won’t have to wait long to find out whether or not they get there.

“They told me they’re going to call me on the satellite phone from the summit of the mountain,” he added. “I’m just going to have to wait for the call.”