Last Thursday, Erik Weihenmayer, 32, became the first blind climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest. His wife, Ellie, monitored his ascent from their house in Golden, Colo., and offers these thoughts on his accomplishment.
Erik and I were married on Mount Kilimanjaro in 1997. While I believed his love for adventure would enhance our relationship, I also knew it would strain our bond as husband and wife. After several climbs, I felt the mountains had become his mistress. "Just one more, Ellie," he'd say. "Just one more mountain." Then last June we had Emma, and he learned how baby girls tug at your heart. Still, he wasn't ready to give up on Everest. I understood. If you're going to call yourself a mountain climber, you have to climb a major Himalayan peak, like Everest.
During his quest, which began in early April, Erik and I talked by satellite phone a few times, but mostly I had to follow his progress on the Internet, like everyone else. After putting Emma to bed, I would click on 2001Everest.com. When there was no news—and on a few occasions there wasn't any for several days—I felt as if my air supply had been cut off. Many nights, images of avalanches and dark crevasses flashed in my head, but I'd push them out.
I found out Erik had summited when Kevin Cherilla, the manager of the expedition's base camp, called on Thursday morning. "They're standing on top of the world, Ellie!" he said. I could hear screaming in the background from the people in the tent, and a sound like a crazy peacock erupted, and I realized it was me yelling. Erik finally called home at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday from base camp. "It's unreal," he said. He told me he felt as if some other body had been up there, not his.
Your life will change, Erik's dad says. He's thinking of the publicity the climb has generated and the opportunities for Erik to educate people about the capabilities of those with disabilities. I'm thinking my life will change because I now live with a man who has stood on the upper deck of our planet. How will he handle all this oxygen down here?