Waddell Summit Update, 9/26

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Chris Waddell was the subject of a recent "CBS Evening News" story. He's attempting to become the first paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. His latest blog was submitted Sept. 26, 2009.

Day one is in the books. You might have gathered from my blog entries that I was more than a bit nervous. This is a tough mountain and I'm pretty sure that every day I will tell you that it was the toughest day.

Our morning started at 6, though with the permits and getting the group together we didn't start until about 10. Waiting has been the most difficult part and this morning was no different. I just wanted to start because I had no idea how long it would take me and how difficult it would be. If I have one daily goal it's to make it to camp before the sun goes down.

We started on the Porter's Road, and I became worried because I didn't think that I was going fast enough. About three weeks ago the Easton Foundations approved a really generous grant for us to build two more vehicles. Without their support we would not even be able to attempt our Kilimanjaro climb.

Dave Penney and his group from Crested Butte, Scott Gillman, Ben Preston and Zach Gustafson of Research Engineering Group, Dave Theis, and Rich Smith, worked around the clock to finish the vehicles and the winch before we departed on Sunday.

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I had only been on one rig for a brief climb on the winch up the hill behind Scott's shop before today. With an untested rig, I think my nervousness was well placed — though I had complete confidence in Dave's group, and they were making minor changes to Bomba, our really successful rig.

A lack of satellite coverage for my GPS system had me convinced that I was going closer in speed to our June scouting mission than to the speeds that I've been going recently. I envisioned arriving in camp by headlamp as I had on the first day in June and worried that the whole effort might be for nothing, but then we turned a corner and saw the end of the Porter's Road and the beginning of the trail.

I asked Dave Penney, "Are we here?" We were. It had taken exactly 2 hours, about the average time for a hiker, and 42 minutes faster than I had done it last November, on my second trip, when I became convinced that I could make it the approximately 3,000 vertical feet a day for camp.

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Making it so quickly to the end of the Porter's Road boosted my spirits, but I knew that the last 1,000 feet of vertical would take at least as long as the previous 2,000 feet, and probably a lot longer. Plus, the technical terrain would force us to use the mostly untested winch.

We needed the winch as soon as we turned the corner. It worked great allowing me to climb a fixed rope by turning the winch with a chain attached to the pedals. I crawled up and over rocks that would have stopped me dead, but then the winch began to heat up. It's a Harken sailing winch and probably not designed for prolonged cranking. It became more difficult to turn.

Luckily the terrain turned less technical. For the majority of the rest of the day I climbed up and over the waterbars that were so challenging the last time and through the rocky terrain. When I faced severe difficulty the porters placed 2x8 boards on the obstacles, bridging the gaps. I can't overstate the porters' contribution. They started tentatively, but after a few tries they made my job so much easier. Their spatial creativity amazed all of us.

We rolled into camp at about 4:30 this afternoon, well before sunset. It was warm and comfortable. One day down. Tomorrow might be our most technical day — yes, I told you each day would be the most difficult.

I hear the winch clicking right now as Dave Penney prepares to make my job easier.

For the latest on Chris' expedition tune in to "CBS Evening News" this Sunday.

Waddell Summit Update, 9/25
Waddell Summit Update, 9/23
Waddell Summit Update, 9/21 Late
See Karen Brown's profile of Chris Waddell
Read Karen Brown's profile of Chris Waddell

(Panic Button Media)
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.