headed for Everest, with help from Duluth-made
DULUTH, Minn. - Nawang Sherpa hesitated after
a California climber offered to make his lifelong dream to scale
Mount Everest a reality.
Tom McMillan's invitation to include Nawang in a 2004 expedition
erased a major obstacle: money for food, transportation, manpower,
gear and fees.
But he still needed at least one spare leg and an extra foot,
maybe two, to scale the 29,035-foot peak.
The 29-year-old Nepalese sidar, or trekking guide, lost his left
leg below the knee to a motorcycle wreck four years ago. The injury
galvanized Nawang's friends, former clients and Ed Hommer, the late
Fish Lake, Minn., climber who shared an admiration of Nawang's
skills and ambition.
In April 2002, Nawang traveled to Duluth to be outfitted with a
flexible, durable prosthetic designed for climbing by Hommer, a
double-amputee, and Cloquet's Tom Halvorson. Five months later,
Hommer died in a rock slide on a Washington mountain while training
for a second attempt at Mount Everest - an expedition he planned to
undertake with Nawang.
Nawang returned to Duluth on Monday, this time at the invitation
of Hommer's friends and officials at High Exposure, a foundation
Hommer launched to provide prostheses for those in need.
On Thursday, Nawang will leave for San Francisco with two spare
carbon fiber and titanium legs, an extra pair of carbon graphite
left feet and four liners for padding and insulation.
"That's one thing Ed wanted to do - help Nawang," said Halvorson,
a High Exposure director and certified prosthetist for Hanger
Prosthetics and Orthotics in Duluth. "It's finishing something that
Ed wanted to do."
The prosthetics give Nawang backups in case his artifical leg and
foot become damaged by the icy, treacherous conditions on Mount
Everest's historic southeast ridge route, known as the South
"We're preparing him for Everest," Halvorson said. "We want him
to stand on top of the hill."
McMillan, Nawang, three guides, a cook and an aide are expected
to arrive at a Mount Everest base camp, at 17,300 feet, early in
From camp, climbers will face unstable ice formations, called
seracs, precarious crevasses and the Lhotse Face, a steep wall of
ice, before reaching 26,300 feet, or the death zone. At that height,
the body no longer adjusts to the mountain's thin air.
McMillan and Nawang hope to reach the summit in May and return to
Kathmandu in June.
The expedition, which is sponsored by the American Alpine Club,
has raised $45,000, almost entirely from private donations by
executives at AMB Property Corp., where McMillan works as a software
developer. McMillan's employer, Hamid Moghadam, proposed the
expedition and donated $20,000.
McMillan immediately thought of Nawang after receiving Moghadam's
"I like him and respect him," he said. Scaling Mount Everest will
boost Nawang's career as a high-altitude guide.
"Think how cool it's going to be to be standing up there with
him," McMillan said.
Nawang met McMillan during the California climber's 1998 attempt
at Annapurna, a 26,545-foot high mountain in Nepal. Nawang acted as
a guide for 15 trekkers who joined McMillan at Annapurna's base
camp, including McMillan's wife, Linda.
"Nawang was our shepherd," she explained. "That's how we felt. We
were pretty clueless."
Nawang's skills, determination and friendly, professional
attitude impressed the 15-person crew, Linda McMillan explained.
When the trekkers learned of Nawang's wreck, they sponsored his
trip to the University of California-San Francisco, where doctors
outfitted him with a sturdy prosthetic.
Nawang lived with the McMillans during his one-month stay in
2001. The Bay area couple and the guide from Nepal's Khumbu district
became close friends.
It was Linda McMillan and Seattle climber Jim Wickwire who
introduced Nawang to Hommer as he returned from an unsuccessful 2001
Mount Everest expedition.
Hommer championed access to prosthetics and used his expeditions
to erase stigma that amputees are limited by their disability.
"This isn't about Ed Hommer," he said before his attempt to
become the first double-amputee to scale Mount Everest. "This is
about the capabilities of the human spirit and what any of us can
Hommer launched High Exposure to provide prosthetics to those in
need. Nawang became the foundation's first client in 2002, after his
original prosthetic became loose as muscles in Nawang's limb
The Duluth prosthetic allowed him to resume climbing, Nawang
said. With encouragement from his employer, Peak Promotions, he
scaled 21,000 feet on Mount Everest in 2003.
Nawang recalled thinking: "I'm happy. I'll make it one day to the
Mount Everest summit," he said Tuesday. "I love to climb."
Helping prepare Nawang for Mount Everest honors Hommer's mission
to see that amputees are not hampered by ill-fitting prosthetics or
discouraged by their disability, said Sarah Cron, a High Exposure
"Ed's number one goal was to spread the message of hope," she
said. "Ed could run. Ed could ride a bike. Ed climbed mountains. Ed
lost both his legs."
And Hommer liked the guide from Nepal.
"Nawang meant so much to Ed," she said.
The foundation languished after Hommer's death. McMillan's and
Nawang's expedition has "reinvigorated" its board of directors, she
"It's a pretty big deal."
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http:// WWW.DULUTHSUPERIOR.COM