Famous blind rock climber leads hike in support of conservation easement

Aug 2, 2013

World famous adventurer Erik Weihenmayer  recently visited Utah. Though he is best known for climbing the world’s tallest peaks, what brought Weihenmayer wasn’t the mountains, but a conservation effort in Southern Utah.

In 2001 Weihnmayer became the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest and in 2002 he reached his goal of climbing the tallest peak on each continent.

Recently, Weihenmayer traveled to Utah to lead a hike for the conservation group Trust for Public Land.

“I’m a big believer in TPL, Trust for Public Land and all the work they do,” Weihenmayer said.

TPL, as they are known, was working on bringing awareness to an entrance to the Zion Narrows. This piece of land is mostly located within Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah and is a 16 mile-long hike through a steep canyon that straddles the Virgin River.

The first two miles of the hike are located on the Chaimberlain Ranch – private land that was up for development before the recession. A few years ago, development plans were scratched and TPL was able to purchase rights to the land in a conservation easement this spring.

Weihnemayer hiked the canyon before the plans were finalized to draw awareness to the importance of undeveloped nature.

“To make these land acquisition deals it takes a lot of work,” Weihenmayer said. “They worked with local partners, individuals, donors to buy up the access to the Zion narrows, which is another incredibly iconic canyon and national treasure. I love it when they contact me because I get to experience these amazing things in the outdoors and do some good along the way.”

The hike was his first visit to the canyon.

“The Zion Narrows was pretty extreme,” Weihenmayer said. “You walk though a beautiful ranch on a road for a little bit and then you cut down into the canyon. And pretty soon you’re in running water and you’re walking in knee deep water. For me, I’ve never been able to see what’s under my feet, so walking though cobbles and water with my trekking poles and sort of feeling my way, and those cobbles move and shift under your feet and there’s some little holes. And a person in front of my jingles a bear bell so that I can hear them moving in front of me. It narrows up and you can feel the walls of the canyon and they’re just smooth and they went up as high as I can imagine. My friend said you could barely see the sky.”

He said it was something he would highly recommend, but it’s not a walk in the park.

“I would say if a blind guy can do it, then most fit people with some expertise can do it too,” Weihenmayer said.

Weihenmayer is famous for all of the extreme sports he’s done all over the world – but he said it’s what is in our own backyards that makes the outdoors a way of life and accessible to most Americans.

“When I look at the outdoors, the experiences I’ve had in the outdoors, they’ve really forged what my life has been about,” Weihenmayer said. 

That’s what TPL recognizes itself as – a group that works on creating open space, the adventure in backyards, he said.

Weihnmayer started rock climbing when he was 16, just shortly after he’d gone blind from a rare eye disease.

His most recent adventure has been learning to white water kayak.

The TPL announced the conservation easement in June. The land rights were purchased in part with money from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protections Program and the state of Utah.