Blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer is at Lee’s Ferry this morning, preparing to begin the challenge of a lifetime: Kayaking the Grand Canyon, top to bottom. Best known for becoming the first blind person to scale Mount Everest, Weihenmayer has now set his sights on what, for him, is an even more daunting challenge.
Joining him is another blind athlete, Lonnie Bedwell, a former Navy Petty Officer and submariner who lost his sight in a hunting accident. Bedwell learned to kayak by practicing hundreds of rolls in the pond on his Indiana farm. Last fall, Lonnie paddled the Grand with a team of military veterans. According to kayakingblind.org, he joined the expedition “to make a statement to the world about the importance of supporting our veterans on their journey home.”
C&K correspondent Buddy Levy is embedded with the blind kayakers’ No Barriers team, and will document the adventure in an upcoming C&K magazine feature.
Over the next 21 days, Weihenmayer and Bedwell will paddle 277 miles through the canyon, and face some of the world’s most iconic rapids. Both men will work with sighted team members to navigate the Colorado’s River’s surging, unpredictable whitewater. Weihenmayer uses a waterproof bluetooth system to communicate with his spotter. Bedwell employs a low-tech solution–his spotters shout directions, and hope that Bedwell can hear them over the roar of the rapids.
For both men, the unpredictable nature of whitewater presents a profound challenge. Climbing Everest was extremely difficult, Weihenmayer told C&K editors last fall, but ultimately it was a test of strength and determination. Kayaking is that and more, he said. After all, mountains don’t move as you climb them.