Vail author aims to inspire
VAIL, Colorado – Eric Alexander loves a good adventure.
He loves his wife Amy and twin daughters more, but that’s a different adventure than leading a blind man up Mount Everest.
Alexander holds nothing back his new book, “The Summit: Faith Beyond Everest’s Death Zone.” When you’re done, you’ll know what it’s like to summit Everest with the largest team ever, and lead the first blind mountaineer, Erik Weihenmayer, to the top of the world.
Along with incredible success, you’ll know what it’s like to fail miserably. You’ll understand that you need failure to give your success a little perspective. You’ll also know what it’s like to live every day, not just be alive but to live, because you’ll know how death feels.
“This book is a byproduct of encouragement,” Alexander says. “Over the last few years, I have given hundreds of speeches, talks and lectures and more times than I can count I have been asked, ‘Can I buy your book?'”
Weihenmayer’s book, “Touching the Top of the World,” deals briefly with their Everest adventure, but nothing told the whole story.
“This story is important because I believe it speaks to the underdog in us all,” Alexander says.
You know Alexander. He’s a Vail local, renowned skier, climber, mountaineer and motivational speaker encouraging others to conquer their own Everests. He founded Higher Summits to help physically disabled teenagers reach new physical limits.
He and Weihenmayer got famous for climbing Mount Everest in 2001. It’s always a big deal, but this one grabbed international headlines because Weihenmayer is the first blind climber to do it.
“I put my trust in God,” says Alexander, who met Weihenmayer in Vail in 1998. “I can’t see His face, but I put my trust in Him. Erik can’t see my face, but he put his trust in me.”
The pair first went ice climbing in East Vail and were soon great friends.
When they climb, Alexander leads Weihenmayer with a rope attaching them. Alexander carries bells so Weihenmayer can hear where they’re going. They talk constantly about terrain and where they’re headed, both on the mountain and in life.
“More times than I can count, I’ve put my life in his hands and he has put his right back in mine,” Weihenmayer said. “He’s a humble, earnest and unassuming guy with a dry wit who would go to the ends of the earth for a friend. In fact, he did.”
In “The Summit,” Alexander talks openly about self doubts, injury, and loved ones demanding to know “Why do you deliberately walk in harm’s way, endangering your life?”
Alexander answers with wit, intelligence and insight. “The Summit” gracefully moves from heart-racing adventure to humor, to testimony about how his faith in Jesus pulls him through it all.
Alexander’s own self-doubts were telling him he shouldn’t attempt Everest at all, that someone else should lead Weihenmayer.
On a training expedition in the Himalayas, Alexander survived a near-fatal 150-foot fall on a 22,000-foot mountain. He landed on a three-foot ledge that saved him from another 500 foot drop that would have been his doom. He had to be airlifted to safety because his lungs were filling up with fluid. The helicopter reached him through a hole in the clouds that opened for moments, then closed the second he was airlifted up through it. Call it what you want. Alexander calls it a miracle.
Adding to his doubt and fear was the snowboarding death of his best friend and climbing partner in the East-Vail chutes.
Death and failure stick with a man, and after he struggled with pneumonia for nine months he went so far as to ask both God and the Everest team if he should do this. They all said yes, of course, and he became a part of that historic expedition.
Do not listen to anyone trying to tell you what you cannot do, Alexander says. Some of the world’s leading climbers said Alexander’s and Weinhenmayer’s Everest attempt was a mistake.
Alexander grew up in the Colorado Rockies and started climbing in his teens. He bagged his first 14er at 14 years old with a church youth group. He was just looking forward to throwing his Frisbee off the top, and played disc golf all the way down.
He skied with the University of Denver ski team, which led him to the ski patrol in Vail and the French Alps. You’ve seen him in a Warren Miller ski movie, “Snowriders II.”
Like the Lord whom Alexander serves, you just can’t keep a good man down.
Alexander and Weihenmayer were together when Weihenmayer finished his Seven Summits in September 2002 with an ascent of Mount Kosciusko. They skied down, just as they had skied down Mount Elbus in Russia the previous June, the first ski descent of Elbus by a blind climber.
In between climbing, instructing disabled skiers in Vail and balancing his family, Alexander directs Higher Summits, an organization that educates and encourages youth with disabilities in the outdoors.
Alexander’s quest of the Seven Summits started with Everest, where most climbers end. So far, he has bagged six, but he did it his own way, leading at least one person with a disability to each of those peaks.
“Climb high. Let only the mountain turn you back,” Alexander says in his speeches.
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