Kathmandu: A wheelchair-bound Australian who reached Everest base camp under his own power said on Tuesday he was “humbled” to be the first paraplegic to make the gruelling journey mostly unaided.
Scott Doolan, 28, took ten days to reach the foot of the world’s highest peak.
He suffered a stress fracture while navigating the rocky terrain and extreme altitude — in his wheelchair where possible, on his hands and occasionally being carried.
Doolan reached the camp, 5,364 metres above sea level, on Sunday, taking barely longer than many able-bodied trekkers.
“I was struggling to breathe at that time because I was walking on my hands but I just remember looking up and seeing a crowd of about 20 people. Once I actually got there they all start cheering and that was pretty damn humbling,” Doolan said of the moment he reached base camp.
Walking on his hands, in a technique he dubbed “wheelbarrowing”, Doolan wore through five pairs of gloves during the trek. And on day seven, one of the front wheels of his wheelchair snapped off.
“I was pretty devastated. I was just sitting by myself on a rock, thinking how am I going to do this now,” Doolan said in the Nepal capital Kathmandu.
“We could have called it quits or found a way.”
The team tied a rope to the broken side of the wheelchair to stop it tipping. But negotiating the narrow and sheer paths became even more fraught.
Doolan — who has been confined to a wheelchair since he broke his spine in a motorbike accident aged 17 — spent eight months training for the trek. He did daily cardiovascular and strength training to build upper body strength.
But he said that despite all the training, the journey was “100 per cent more difficult” than he had expected.
“I didn’t expect the terrain to be so brutal. I’ve never seen anything like that before and I’ve never trained on anything like that,” he said.
The journey took its toll on Doolan and he was airlifted from base camp on Sunday to Kathmandu, where he was admitted to hospital. X-rays revealed he had a stress fracture in his tailbone but he is expected to make a full recovery.
Doolan is now mulling his next adventure — and also wants to swim for Australia in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.