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Posted on Sun, May. 16, 2004

Amputee nears summit of Mount Everest

CLIMBING:Nawang Sherpa has a prosthetic leg from a Two Harbors foundation.


A high-altitude guide from Nepal who twice traveled to Duluth to receive sophisticated prosthetic legs expects to summit Mount Everest today.

Nawang Sherpa, part of an expedition led by California climber Tom McMillan, arrived at Mount Everest's base camp April 5. The team began its ascent Saturday night.

Nawang, who lost his lower left leg in a 2000 motorcycle wreck, last visited Duluth in February after the High Exposure Foundation, based in Two Harbors, offered to outfit the Nepalese guide with spare titanium legs and a pair of carbon graphic feet for his April attempt at Everest.

High Exposure was launched by the late Fish Lake climber Ed Hommer, a double amputee who championed access to sophisticated prosthetics to enable amputees to lead active lives.

The foundation sponsored Nawang's first Duluth trip in 2002. Hommer and Nawang planned to scale Everest's 29,028-foot peak together, but Hommer died while training on a Washington mountain in 2002.

"I know Ed's with them in spirit," said Tom Halvorson, a certified prosthetist and a director of High Exposure. Halvorson worked with Hommer to design a light, flexible artificial leg for climbing.

Halvorson waited up Thursday night after he learned the expedition might reach the summit. "Words really can't describe it," he said. "It's just the chills and goose bumps I feel just knowing they're close."

McMillan's wife, Linda, also a climber, spent two weeks at the base camp as the team began its gradual ascent. She described the camp's extreme beauty in an online journal: "The amphitheater of peaks and cliffs around base camp is full of hanging glaciers, teetering seracs, avalanche slopes, and loose rock and dirt... the huge and deadly Khumbu Icefall dramatically dominates the scene."

Conditions are mild at base camp in comparison to wind-swept and steep camps perched farther up Everest's southeast ridge route, Linda McMillan said Friday.

By May 2, Nawang and the climbing team had scaled unstable ice formations to reach a perilous camp along the Lhotse Face, a steep wall of ice. After acclimating to the thin air at 24,500 feet, Nawang and the team descended to recover and wait for weather conditions to improve.

Forecasts of a favorable "weather window" inspired Nawang, Tom McMillan and three sherpas to join others in a push to reach the summit this weekend.

Linda McMillan spoke briefly with her husband via satellite phone Thursday evening. "They are... shocked and jubilant that they feel so strong and fit as they're approaching the summit," she said.

She described the experienced five-person crew as "the dream team of climbers" who care for one another as friends.

MELANIE EVANS covers health care. Call her at (218) 720-4154 or (800) 456-8282 or e-mail her at

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