Climbing 19,240 Feet by Arm Strength Alone

The moment of truth is almost at hand for a man who is no stranger to the toughest of challenges. In just a few days he'll be climbing Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro as no one has ever climbed it before, as CBS News correspondent Karen Brown reports.

Don't tell Chris Waddell he can't climb a mountain. This week Waddell will try to become the first paraplegic, on his own power, to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Keep Up To Date On Chris's Progress

"I want them to go, 'Wow, I never thought that was possible,'" Waddell said.

Paralyzed at 20 in a freak ski accident, Waddell went on to become the most decorated Paralympic skier ever. But still, he's tired of just being "a guy in a wheel chair."

"I was an athlete for a long time - as a Paralympic athlete, I competed in almost complete obscurity," he said. "By getting to the tallest mountain out there, they have to look at me a bit differently."

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the tallest peak in Africa. It's a so-called walkable mountain.

But when you are paralyzed from the waist down, it's all about your arms - and your will.

"The physical part is exhausting, but the mental part is a whole lot more exhausting," Waddell said. "You are thinking in five foot increments. You want to ascend a 19,000 foot mountain in five foot increments?"

After a scouting trip to Africa last year, he plans on doing it just like any other climber. Five days up, two days down on a highly engineered four wheel mountain bike - ""Mars rover married to arm pedal power," Waddell says.

To pedal over the boulders, each wheel moves separately.

"I'll go five feet and it will be like I just ran a 400-meter sprint," he said.

His legs are tucked underneath him and he steers with his chest, choosing his route like a rock climber.

On the final push to the summit, Waddell will have to climb 4,000 vertical feet. To make that happen, he'll be secured to a winch and he'll pedal himself up a rope. The fixed rope through a converted sailing winch will give him traction.

"The only thing you can think about at that point is one revolution, then stop and catch your breath," he said.

In a project two years in the making, financed by grants and donations, Waddell assembled an extraordinary team in Crested Butte, Colo. to help him train and refine his now near-indestructible bike.

An off-road racecar designer built the frame. An engineer and triathlete refined the gears and added wheels four times as big as his old ones - all under the guidance of expedition leader Dave Penney.

"I don't know if Ihave ever seen an athlete dig so deep and go so hard," Penney said of Waddell. "If Chris can do this, he is setting a new standard for anyone in a wheel chair."

While in Africa, Waddell's foundation, One Revolution, will provide wheelchairs to Tanzanians.

"I see myself in a lot of these kids," Waddell said. He wants the world to see them too.

When he gets to the top, "I'm asking the world to see me, and the world to see other people like me," he said.

And to envision the possibilities - rather than the limitations.
  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter