Thrill seekers

Graeme Turner
Gerard Gossins and Nick Gleeson have climbed some of the highest mountains in the world. Both men are blind. They have climbed Mount Everest. They loved the challenge. They had support teams to help. But the climbs were very dangerous. Nick had a dangerous fall on Mount Everest. One of his companions also got sick when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. But both Nick and Gerard say the hard work was worth it. Gerard wants to inspire other people with a disability. Nick says you need to believe in yourself.
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Graeme Turner on 26/05/2011
The view of Mount Everest and Nubtse from Kalapatthar. The mountains have no vegetation on them, just rock, ice and snow
Mount Everest and Nubtse from Kalapatthar photo Pavel Novak

A view of Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Image: Pavel Novak

Even a response to a call of nature can be a challenge for someone with vision impairment. Especially when you are on the side of a mountain, says thrill seeker Gerard Gossins.

Whether mountain climbing or plunging into the sea, there are many people with a disability prepared to experience challenging adventures. It can be hard for some of us to understand, though. There are enough difficulties in simply travelling from place to place for a holiday. Adding activities as bold as mountain climbing can seem out of reach.

Drawn to the challenge

Gerard Gossins is blind. He has a very determined personality. He also wants to offer inspiration to others. He was drawn to the challenge of climbing Mount Everest. He has now climbed the highest mountain in the world twice. He climbed it in 2003 and again in 2005. I think for me, it's not only about giving it a go, says Gerald of his passion for climbing. (I am also) trying to provide a sense of inspiration for young kids who might have a physical disability.

Nick Gleeson is also blind. As a child Nick was inspired by Sir Edmund Hilary. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2001. It is the highest mountain in Africa. He also successfully tackled Mount Everest last year. My goal was to reach high altitude, says Nick.

Meeting challenges

There are a lot of challenges when tackling a mountain with a vision impairment. Gerald used a system of following the movements of his guide's body to tackle tricky terrain. It was sometimes even a challenge to get to the toilet tent and back. But Gerald had trust in his team and equipment. He was more concerned about the little things. He needed to identify hygienic food, or whether water was murky or wriggling with bugs.

On his second trip to Everest, Gerard says one challenge he faced was finding his way across Bangkok airport and through Kathmandu without a guide. Nick has had similar challenges navigating around New York. Nick says these ordinary trips can be adventures in themselves for people with a disability.

In preparing for his trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, Nick secured support for guides who understood his needs. He wanted guides that could describe the African plains to him in order to enrich the experience.


When Nick travelled to Mount Everest his trekking pole malfunctioned. The fall could have been fatal. Fortunately he fell away from the drop. Luckily the Sherpa I was with grabbed me, Nick says. We all landed heavily but safely.

Altitude sickness is also a frequent problem when climbing. One of Nick's party had to descend before the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nick decided to forge on to the top of the mountain. His guide helped him retain focus.

Rapidly changing conditions can also present problems. On one climb Gerard tackled it was snowing heavily. Gerard found it difficult to find the guide rope on the way back. Gerard acknowledges things can turn badly very quickly. It's a matter of being able to absorb those particular predicaments, he says.


Gerald and Nick say there are many benefits from their dangerous hobby. Gerard says meeting the emotional challenge of an activity like climbing is very satisfying.

Nick adds that his achievement of getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro was not just about conquering a dream. It was also fantastic to enjoy the African landscape through the descriptions of others. We took our time, Nick says. We felt, we smelt, we sat, we listened. We got to know each other.

Advice to others

Gerald and Nick have plenty of advice for other budding adventurers. Gerard stresses the importance of good research. He also says it is important to be fit if the journey will be physically gruelling. Some activities require both physical and mental toughness. Good equipment is also crucial. Gerald recommends boots with good grip and a warm jacket made of material that breathes.

Nick says a good support crew is very important. Nick found an advantage in having a team of people he knew well. The right attitude is also crucial. It really is a matter of having the right psychological approach to things, says Nick. Having a belief in yourself. And putting steps into place to make it possible.

Gerard is similarly positive in his advice. Embrace the actual opportunity, he recommends. First, though is having a dream.

Readers comments (1)

Wow! What a pair of adventurers. Great article.

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