In early May, 2009 I reported on Wendy Booker’s attempt to finish climbing the Seven Summits with an ascent of Mount Everest. Wendy, if successful, would be the first person with multiple sclerosis (MS) to climb both Mount Everest and the Seven Summits, the highest points on the seven continents. Wendy, a 55-year-old mountaineer and runner, was diagnosed with MS in 1998 after experiencing numbness on her left side, problems with balance, and blurred vision—all classic symptoms of MS.
Wendy’s attempt on Everest, however, was aborted in late May. After a good weather window in early May, a series of severe storms curtailed most attempts on Mount Everest, so she and her party descended to Base Camp and then down to Pengboche at 13,200 feet to wait out the weather. By the time the storms abated on May 17, the window of opportunity to summit the world’s highest mountain was closed to all but the fittest and most acclimatized climbers. It’s fair to remember too, that only 20% of first-time Everest climbers reach the summit and this year, with the Chinese side closed to climbing, there were crowds of climbers attempting the South Col route to the summit.
Trish Thomas, Wendy’s publicist here in Colorado, reports on Wendy’s website: “Unfortunately between Wendy’s MS symptoms, a bout of the flu, long waits for acclimatization and weather, and fatigue, it was decided that Wendy’s expedition cannot safely continue the climb. She is completely out of gas! At the pace the team was moving up the mountain, they simply would not have been able to reach the summit before the next wave of storms closes Everest for the year. In addition, a physician who examined Wendy on the mountain recommended that she not try again for the summit.”
Without reaching the summit of Mount Everest, Wendy Booker has still achieved a lot of mountaineering success that began with her ascent of 20,320-foot Denali, North America’s high point, in 2004. Through her climbing achievements, Wendy proves that MS in not a limitation to attaining life goals. As she notes on her website: “I use mountains as metaphors for the obstacles we all encounter in life. And, I want to inspire others—especially young people—not to see obstacles as mountains in their way, but more as challenges to ‘climb’ over and around. We all have such ‘mountains’ in our lives and we cannot let them stop us!”
I’m sure this won’t be Wendy’s last attempt at Mount Everest and completing the Seven Summits. She obviously achieves despite her disease and makes a conscious choice to live her life to the fullest and without limitations. And that’s a great thing. That’s what climbing is all about.
Go to the next page to read an interview I did with Wendy while she was climbing Mount Everest. Find out how she trained to climb Mount Everest and the other Seven Summits; how MS affects her while climbing and on the mountain; and her plans after she finishes the Seven Summits.