Athletes With Disabilities to Climb Colorado Ice Wall

DENVER, CO, 2/10/2009: On Feb. 12, two extraordinary athletes with disabilities are partnering on a climb that gives the fittest enthusiasts chills.

Erik Weihenmayer, who lost his sight at age 13, and Chad Jukes, an Iraq war veteran who lost his right leg to an explosive device in 2007, will climb the frozen Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride, which at 365 feet is Colorado’s tallest free falling waterfall and one of the most difficult ice climbs in the country.

This classic climb, which has been closed to climbers for the better part of the last two decades, reopened Dec. 5, 2008 through the efforts of Trust for Public Land (TPL), with support from Colorado’s San Miguel County, the Telluride Mountain Club and the Access Fund, a national organization dedicated to preserving the U.S. climbing environment. Funding was also provided by The Town of Telluride and Great Outdoors Colorado.

“The Trust for Public Land is extremely grateful to Erik and Chad for giving their time to help bring attention to the Falls re-opening and for their support of TPL’s mission to preserve land for Americans of all varieties – including those facing physical challenges. Americans need more access to the outdoors – whether it is on ice walls such as Bridal Veil Falls in Colorado, or in parks where city children can see the wonders of nature,” said Tim Wohlgenant, TPL’s Colorado Director.

The Idarado Mining Company owns the land beneath Bridal Veil Falls. In 2004, TPL purchased 2,400 acres of mining claims overlooking Telluride from Idarado. TPL then held portions of the property until numerous environmental, planning and other issues could be worked out, including a license for access to the falls. On September 30, 2008, the transaction was completed and ownership of the final parcels was transferred to the Town of Telluride and San Miguel County. Through enormous effort, the County completed in December all the arrangements necessary to enable public access to the falls.

Climber awareness and compliance with a number of rules is paramount at Bridal Veil Falls, since the new public access license is revocable and is contingent on climbers’ personal responsibility. Climbers must sign in at a kiosk and avoid the Powerhouse area at the top of the falls; all descents must be via rappel on the falls, or on the bolted anchors nearby. Top-roping is not allowed.

The ice route was first ascended by legendary climbers Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss in 1974, an event broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and that climb is considered by many to be the start of modern ice climbing.

Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to have climbed the “Seven Summits,” the tallest peak on every continent. He is the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest (May 25, 2001) and he has also scaled the 3000 foot rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, skied down the tallest peak in Europe, and guided Tibetan blind teenagers to 21,500 feet on the north side of Mt. Everest.

In 2007, Erik climbed the iconic Wilson Peak, one of the most recognized peaks in the nation, to raise awareness of TPL having restored access to the safest, most direct route for climbers and hikers.

When faced with the choice to rebuild his badly damaged limb or to amputate the leg below the knee, Iraq war veteran Chad Jukes chose the latter, realizing he would be able to do a lot more without the foot than with it. As an active amputee engaged in rock climbing, ice climbing, surfing, rafting, and more, he now has an arsenal of prosthetic parts to use for different sports. He is a big proponent for getting active to boost morale.

“As America faces a tough road ahead, Erik and Chad are a great metaphor for what can happen when you meet adversity well. They show us all how passion for an exhilarating and fulfilling life makes a mockery out of the word ‘disabled,'” said Wohlgenant.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 45 states.