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Be First Recipient Becomes the First Blind Person to Complete the Pacific Crest Trail, Summit Mt. Whitney
Posted on September 20, 2010

Be First recipient Trevor Thomas set out to be the first blind person to complete a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile route that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. Our Be First program is an opportunity to get sponsored when you go for your own summit, whatever that maybe. To learn more and submit your proposals, visit Be First.

By Trevor Thomas

The 2010 season was filled with weather extremes. The desert was hot (as expected), but no one expected the cold. Our first real challenge was Fuller Ridge, near Idyllwild, CA. There was a lot of unexpected snow that caught everyone off guard. Many groups jumped ahead to avoid it, but we decided to push through. It took us three attempts where we were stopped repeatedly by weather. On Apache Peak, we were greeted by heavy snow, extreme cold and winds that were clocked by the weather service at 109 mph. Fuller was a defining point for our team. We made good decisions, developed a hiking style as a group, and, most importantly, no one got injured. It really brought us together. We were much more fortunate than many of the other groups.

Thru hiking is hard, and most did not finish. The estimate for this past year was a 60 to 70 percent dropout rate. We nearly lost Chad “Firemarshall” Zandy in the desert due to the heat, and, sadly, not more than 150 miles after Fuller Ridge, Amber “Girl Friday” Collins had to leave the trail due to knee problems.

Firemarshall and I pushed on with a new teammate, “Just Dave,” who we met along the way.

When we reached the Sierras, the trail was covered with 23 feet of snow, the most that anyone could remember. Before going in, the three of us decided to do a side trip to the summit of Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,500 feet), the highest peak in the contiguous United States. We crossed glaciers and climbed ice sheets to the top. When I made the summit, I became the first blind person to stand on top. It was amazing, and was even more rewarding given the trail conditions. That was a taste of things to come in the upper Sierras.

For hundreds of miles, we climbed to high altitude, crossed glaciers and forded rivers swollen with glacial runoff. Most of the time, the trail was covered with 20 feet of snow.

The Sierras nearly ended my thru-hike, but not for the reasons I had thought it could.

Before we went in, I had a filling fall out of one of my teeth. I did not think too much of it at the time, so we went on. That decision nearly cost me dearly. Repeatedly climbing to high altitude caused it to abscess. When it happened, we were in the most rugged and remote section of the trail. The pain was excruciating, and every time we would climb another peak, I would become disoriented. There was no easy way to get out, except to keep going. When we made it to Mather Pass it was so bad that we considered pressing our SPOT for an evacuation. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go over the pass and get to the ranger station on the other side for help. Just below the summit I became so dizzy that I had to drive my axe into the face and hold on while Firemarshall cut steps so that we could top out. Before then, I had never seriously considered that I could die in the backcountry. My fears were realized when the dentist who performed my emergency root canal told me that had I gone over another high pass, the abscess would have gone septic and I most likely would have died. Luckily after that, the Sierras were good to the team.

Northern California and Oregon were awesome. Once again, we had clear trail and good weather. There was one thing that I had to prove to myself, however. I needed to hike solo, like I did on the AT. I got my chance when we got to Mt. Hood, OR. This 70-mile section of trail looked pretty straightforward on the map. It had only a few river crossings and had plenty of water along the way. I left my team behind and headed for the border of Oregon and Washington. What the map did not tell us was that there were some places where the trail was relocated and that water was not as plentiful as we thought. I got lost several times and was forced to dry camp for a couple days. In spite of the seeming hardships, I made it to Cascade Lakes in time for PCT Trail Days unscathed. It was the highlight of my trek.

Weather was the word for Washington: lots of rain, cold, and snow. Everyone was tired, but we had the end in sight. So we endured being wet and cold for nearly a month. We had no more than three to four sunny days in the whole state, but the ones we had were spectacular. My favorite was the border of Canada. We had been cold and wet for weeks, and with only 6 miles to go, we held up short for one more night on the trail. Even after making it to the border, we were facing two more days of hiking so we could get out. The night before we reached the border, Firemarshall read our permit, but did not tell anyone what he discovered until the monument. Six months before we left, he had to choose a projected date for us to finish. The date he chose was September 25, 2010. We did not plan it, but it was the exact day we made it to Canada. It couldn’t have been better. On top of that it was sunny. What a way to finish.

We could not have done it without the support from our many sponsors. They made it possible for me to achieve my goal of becoming the first blind person to complete the Pacific Crest Trail. We are now looking to The Continental Divide. Thank you again.


Author: - Monday, September 20th, 2010

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