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Original Issue

Livin' It Blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer summits Mount Elbrus-- and leads the way in a dramatic descent

On June 13, with foul weather predicted for the next three days,
blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer and his 15-person climbing
team decided to make an ambitious one-day, 5,200-foot push to
the summit of Russia's Mount Elbrus. Upon successfully attaining
the 18,510-foot peak, Europe's tallest, Weihenmayer promptly
turned around and began his descent--on skis. While he put on
crampons to down-climb a few of the steeper, icier pockets,
Weihenmayer skied roughly 80% of the 10,000-foot route, much of
it in a whiteout in which skiers couldn't tell the ground from
the sky. "Advantage, Erik," says Weihenmayer with a mischievous
laugh. "For me, skiing in a whiteout is no different [from
skiing on a perfect day]. I feel the terrain changes below my
feet and have to instantly react. Sighted skiers are obviously
used to being able to anticipate the ground in front of them. In
this case they were unable to pick up the terrain changes, and
they were biting it, just really biting it. At one point I was
leading. How's that for irony?"

Having completed ascents of six of the Seven Summits (the
highest mountains on each of the continents), Weihenmayer will
turn his attention to his final peak, Indonesia's Carstenz
Pyramid, to which he will travel in September. For the
33-year-old Colorado resident, climbing the 16,023-foot mountain
is less daunting than two other obstacles: the country's
political instability and anti-U.S. bias, and the remoteness of
the mountain. To reach Carstenz, climbers have typically had two
options: flying in a four-seat, single-engine Bonanza or a
six-seat, single-engine Cessna. Last week Pasquale Scaturro, the
leader of the September expedition, received news (still
unconfirmed) that the only Bonanza that makes the trip had
crashed, further fraying the nerves of the mildly aviophobic
Weihenmayer. "I've climbed a lot of forbidding peaks," he says,
"but nothing is scarier than getting in one of those small

COLOR PHOTO: DIDRIK JOHNCK UP AND DOWN After a hard push to the top, Weihenmayer promptly strapped on his skis.