And, that’s a wrap! The entire Sightless Summits team reached the top of North America's highest and most remote peak and made it safely back down! We flew off the glacier on June 21st. Fourteen days from door-to-door is considered a blazingly fast trip for Denali. I am proud to have been a part of such a strong and determined group of climbers!
We heard from several other climbing teams on the mountain that ours exuded an aura of power, fun and camaraderie that everyone appreciated! We had some exciting crevasse falls and rescues, a head-first tumble on the Camp 14 headwall, and some of the best camp food we’ve ever had.
I think all of us agree that this expedition and this team will be a life’s-best experience!
We are so grateful to be a part of the vision of the Sightless Summits project to sow a seed for blind and disabled people everywhere (and particularly our veterans.) We are equally grateful to all those who supported and followed us on this amazing adventure.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
Summit at 7p! Every person on the Sightless Summit team made it to the top. Words fail to contain our emotion.
Hola from Denali’s highest camp. Getting here today was extremely challenging! The head wall and the ridge line proved to be difficult for everyone, especially Lonnie. And the whole team would appreciate our second team rest day. But, it looks like the mountain has given us an opportunity tomorrow that we can’t pass up. So, up we’ll go! Climbing to Camp 17 and then to the summit in back-to-back days is no small task, but one that our team is excited to tackle! We hope to have good news soon!
-The Sightless Summits Team
Today we are moving to Camp 17 (at 17,000’). It is the highest camp on our route. To get there, we first climb the “Headwall” which is the longest and steepest section of the route and is right out of Camp 14. Once we gain the top, we traverse along an exposed and narrow rocky ridge with significant drops on both sides. We anticipate this ridge line to be the most significant technical challenge for Lonnie. We have conflicting weather forecasts, so we’re not sure when we’ll head to the summit, but we have some confidence that it should be either the 18th, 19th or 20th. Staying the extra day at Camp 14 helped everyone acclimatize to the altitude. Lonnie is doing well. He feels strong and ready to crush this summit! Everyone benefitted from the first and only team rest day yesterday and are excited to make our final push. Hopefully good news soon!
Yesterday we moved to Camp 14 (14,200’). The hike was aggressive and challenging for everyone. Sleeping in cold tents, at altitude and without many of the basic comforts takes it’s toll. Today is day 7 and while this team is exceptionally strong, everyone is excited about today’s “rest” day. It’s actually an “active rest day” because some of us will have to descend a few miles to recover the cache we left two days ago. Lonnie is showing his grit despite feeling the effects of altitude and extreme exertion. Weather has been ideal and everyone’s enthusiasm remains high.
Yesterday we carried heavy loads to 10,000’ and buried them in a deep hole. Today we left Camp 1 and climbed to Camp 11 (11,000’). Tomorrow we go back down to pick up our buried gear and bring them to C11. Climbing Denali is hard work - but we have a strong team and everyone is doing really well!
I asked Lonnie what wisdom he’d like to share. He replied “I don’t have any wis, but I got a lot of dum”. Always a joker.
The team made it to Camp 1 yesterday at 7,800’. Weather is beautiful - maybe a little too much sun :) Today, four of us are carrying heavy loads to Camp 11 (11,000’) then we’ll return to our current camp for one more night. This process of carrying forward helps ensure overall team success. All spirits are high. So beautiful here!
Today is day 1! We fly into base camp at just under 8,000’ to start our climb up Denali’s Western Buttress. The summit rate so far this season has been exceptionally high (almost 70%.) This is primarily because the mountain has had fantastic weather. True to the law of averages the weather forecast is deteriorating with snow and wind anticipated on every day in the forecast. But, the Sightless Summit team is undeterred! Onward and Upward!
Talkeetna is an adorable Alaskan town nestled next to a fast moving river at the base of Denali National Park. The team has been sorting, packing and loading gear. Each climber will carry 30-40 pounds on their back and pull a sled weighing an additional 80 pounds. Hard work - but we are ready and excited to fly to the glacier tomorrow morning.
From left to right:
Bryan hill, Ryan waters, Kevin Cappello, Lonnie Bedwell, Michael Neal, Alex Johnson, Erin Johnston
Message from Lonnie:
“Thank you everyone for getting us here. This is really happn’n! It’s time to embrace the suck!”
Only four days left before the Sightless Summits team travels to Anchorage, Alaska on its way to our epic Denali expedition. We have a fantastic team of great people who are also strong climbers. You can read a little bit about each of us below. All of us are excited to support Lonnie, and through him, the many disabled veterans that he serves every day. We've been planning and fundraising for over a year and it is so exciting to see our hard work materialize into reality. The whole team sends its love and appreciation to everyone who has helped us get this far! #Sowaseed
Blind Military Veteran. Extreme Adventure Athlete. Motivational Speaker. Author. He was critically injured during 1997 in a hunting accident that instantly took his sight. Nevertheless, he raised three daughters as a single father, teaching them all to hunt and fish — and, against all odds, to drive. Lonnie has kayaked some of the most challenging whitewater in the world and is best known for having completed the first blind descent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, summited several of North America’s highest mountains, rock climbs, and more.
An avid outdoor enthusiast. Michael retired in his early 40’s after selling his businesses. After retirement he went to law school and passed the Oregon bar as a mental challenge. His mountaineering achievements include every major peak in the Pacific Northwest, Mt Whitney, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Ama Dablam and Everest. He has rock climbed El Capitan and other big walls multiple times (often solo). Michael is a devoted husband of 30 years, father of four thriving children, and grandfather of four perfect grandsons.
Physical therapist and adventure seeker based in Santa Cruz, CA, Bryan specializes in long distance athletic events. He won the solo division of an 80-mile paddle board race, Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, in 2019 and the 4-man relay division in 2018. Bryan’s new love for mountaineering began in 2017, and he has since summited Mt. Rainier, Mt. Whitney and Mt. Shasta along the US West Coast as well as Lobuche and Pokalde in the Himalayas. His other hobbies include mountain biking, ski mountaineering, climbing, photography, and surfing or paddle boarding. Trained as a physical therapist and with a natural talent for teaching, Bryan seeks out opportunities to facilitate adventures for athletes.
Enjoys horseback riding, canoeing, mountaineering and pilots a 1965 Piper Cherokee 180 single engine airplane. Residing in Northern California, he has summited Mt. Shasta many times, Rainier, Whitney, Russel, Tindall, Williamson, and several other peaks in the Cascades. Internationally, he has topped out on Mount Blanc the tallest mountain in Europe with an attempt on the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Other summits include Iztaccihuatl, and Pico de Orizaba in Mexico (the 3rd tallest in North America), and Cotopaxi and Chimborazo in Ecuador. In the beginning of 2021, Erin, on a solo expedition, successfully reached the top of Amaghino and Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the America’s and outside of the Himalaya.
Lived in New Zealand and the Caribbean before relocating to the west coast where he is now based in Santa Cruz. He is trained as an RN in neuro science critical care and spends his time off seeking challenge and adventure. He hiked 550 miles across Spain, and biked 3,600 miles across North America, helping raise $50k for the Lineberger Cancer Research Center in the process. He has climbed in the Sierra, the Himalaya, the Andes, and the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Alex believes life is best lived outdoors and brings a passion for helping others get outside and experience it.
A father of two beautiful, little daughters who love to join him in adventures and who also sends stuffed animals inside his pack to accompany him for safety and companionship on big mountains. Kevin enjoys aviation, motocross, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and any adventure sport from scuba diving to mountaineering. He started with the team in 2021 climbing Mt. Shasta in Northern California in early January during a very cold, snow and wind storm as his first taste of mountain climbing. In 2021 he summited three, 14-thousand foot peaks in California including Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall in the Sierras. He has also climbs Mt. Lassen in NorCal during the winter and the Middle and North Sisters, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and monkey face at smith rock state park in Central Oregon.