Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Climb Without Barriers

As I ascended the Grand, tiny bursts of yellow, blue, and purple alpine flowers fought for attention amongst the great expanse of snowfields, rock scree, a bright sky, and a dramatic view of the valley below. Everything about the harsh alpine environment denies the existence of a flower. Brutal winds whip the mountain-side. Temperatures drop to freezing at night, even during the peak of summer. Above a certain altitude, the grass and trees simply give up and relinquish the ground to snow and rock.

Yet, every July the tiny flowers emerge, so tiny that 2 or 3 of them could fit on your fingernail. They work so hard to defy the odds of expectations, huddling together to prominently display patches of color to transform a barren mountain-top into an alpine garden. Together, they overcame the barriers of nature.
Alpine flowers next to an ice axe for size comparison
All around us, there are barriers for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. A professor lectures, his voice and lips distorted by an echoing room or overgrown beard. The phone rings, a indiscernible voice speaks on the line. A climbing partner’s commands are lost in the wind.  

Yet, every year, every day, the talents and successes of people with disabilities emerge as society rushes on. Sometimes they are so small, they go un-noticed. A child learns how to say her name for the first time. An adult discovers American Sign Language, and a whole new world of learning is suddenly opened. Together, the deaf unite to display their pride and success of overcoming barriers that the world does not understand. An enthusiastic crowd erupts into a thunderous foot-stomping and hand waving applause as graduation commences at Gallaudet University, the only university for and of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing in the world.

The Grand Teton
The Grand Teton looms in the clouds, full of barriers. Technical alpine climbing traditionally is an endeavor reserved for those who fit a certain mold. To attempt this foreboding technical alpine climb, someone with a hearing disability must overcome multiple barriers. Sometimes a barrier cannot be won because of perceptions society has created.

Brenton Reagon, Exum Guide

To learn the art of climbing, one must have a teacher who must learn how to communicate and work effectively. Limiting communication endangers a climbing party ascending and descending the 13, 770 foot peak. Too many people have risked death or injury to claim the mountain. It’s too hard and dangerous to include a deaf person in this lofty endeavor.

It’s too hard.
It’s too dangerous.
It’s too much energy.

That’s what the mountain said to the flower.
But the flower wants to grow anyway.

I am humbled and excited to be working with Exum Mountain Guides in the Grand Tetons. We have worked together to adapt alpine mountaineering to defy the needs of auditory communication in both the learning process and the actual climb itself. What resulted was a beautiful bond of a team working and learning together to ascend and descend the mountain safely and efficiently, without a single word spoken. The barriers of communication, perception, and emotion were broken.

As a deaf person, I’ve experienced that simple things in life are often unnecessarily difficult. I admit it’s frustrating. Sometimes, all I want is for someone to show that they care. Sometimes, it is just so easy to be like the grass and trees at alpine level and just... give up.
Silently belaying up Court up "Windy Tunnel" Pitch on the Grand
I am hopeful that Exum Mountain Guides and Climbing School “Climb Without Barriers” program will show the world that people with disabilities are smart and capable, unlike the perceptions society has created. More importantly, I am even more hopeful that “Climb Without Barriers” will empower the deaf and hard-of-hearing to believe in themselves.

You are beautiful.
You are capable.
The mountain is tough, but you are tougher! Go climb it!

Climb Without Barriers Summit Team! Court, Christina, and Brenton
Our goal is to inspire, empower, and make climbing more accessible for deaf people (and all people with disabilities) and to set up expeditions with no barriers. If you would like to be involved with and/or contribute to Climb Without Barriers, please contact me or Exum Mountain Guides. The next expedition will be August 2012!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how I can get a hold of you directly though your blog site so I'm making a comment here. I'd like to talk with you - my name is Bucky and email me at Hope to hear from you soon! :)