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Alpenglow Adventures, the Carrollton organization founded by Camp Kysoc director Jim Ebert, recently completed another successful venture to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Providing hiking expeditions to people who cannot walk, or cannot walk without assistance, Alpenglow Adventures takes individuals to destinations attempted by very few, if any, disabled climbers.
This month’s trip marked the organization’s third attempt at hiking the Bright Angel Trail with paraplegics—two being successful—and the first successful paraplegic conquest of the trail to beautiful Havasu Falls.
In October, Ebert and a number of local residents attempted to take former Carroll County resident Sarah Service to the bottom of the Grand Canyon but found the trek to take much longer than they had anticipated. The hikers managed to advance 4.5 miles along the seven mile trail, but were forced to curtail their activity due to impending darkness. Still, Sarah made history by becoming the first paraplegic to hike a trail there since the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919.
The Alpenglow Adventures team made some improvements in equipment and changed some of their procedures based on what they learned on that first adventure. In November, Ebert and another group returned and successfully reached the Colorado River with 13-year-old Sklyar Cannon, a former Carrollton resident who now lives in Shelbyville. Early this year they made a successful climb with a paraplegic to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
The two physically challenged individuals on this latest trip—Gina Nelson, 43, from Madison, Ind.; and Colombia native Juan Martin Botero, 34, from Cambridge, Mass.—were accompanied by 27 team members. The group left from Camp Kysoc in three 15-passenger vans on Aug. 7.
“At 2:30 on Monday morning (August 10) we descended about 10 miles to Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation,” Ebert said. “It took us about 11 hours to get to the falls.” Gina and Juan “were the first two documented cases of getting to the falls by trail by people who are unable to walk.”
Devices used to enable Nelson and Botero to navigate the trail included the TrailRider and the KiliKart. The Trailrider requires one person to pull from the front and another to push from the rear and operate the brakes. Any additional hikers are tethered with climbing ropes to those operating the cart, to help provide power. The KiliKart, is more like a conventional wheelchair, allowing the disabled climber to participate physically in the climb; like the TrailRider, it also can be powered and stabilized by able-bodied climbers. The KiliKart allows the rider to help power himself using his arms in the same way he would use a wheelchair.
“We’ve never used this device before,” Ebert said of the KiliKart. “It’s the only device in the world with hydraulic brakes like this. We could not have done either hike without the brakes.”
“This new device allows the participant to help operate the wheels and their participation added tremendously to their adventure,” said Camp Kysoc counselor Adam Tillinghast. Tillinghast and his fiance, Rebecca Gold, were members of the team who not only made the trip, but played a big role in development of advance planning and equipment preparation for the adventure. Tillinghast developed the hydraulic brake system for the device.
“Adam’s an engineer,” Ebert explained. “All kinds of things started to happen” with equipment. “Adam was like McGuyver” rigging things so they could work again. “I’m so glad we had Adam along. If there has ever been a team effort, this was the greatest team effort I’ve ever seen. We had college kids and former college kids. Adam and Rebecca helped a lot with the advance preparation. There were a number of things that could have gone wrong that didn’t. Some other things went wrong that we didn’t expect.”
“One of the devices had a flat tire before we even got to Havasu Falls,” Tillinghast said, “but we managed to get there and get back even with a flat tire.”
“It really is difficult to describe all the obstacles we overcame,” said Gold.
According to Tillinghast, only three of the people on the trip had actually done a hike of this magnitude before. A handful of those on the trip had never even hiked before.
Gold said the team included people from England, Scotland, Poland, France, New Zealand, Austrailia, Colombia and several areas of the United States.
“Every member of the team is critical,” she said. “There are some pulling, some pushing, some carrying extra gear. Some of the people are taking pictures, some are going back and forth encouraging others.”
After the Havasu Falls expedition the team took a day off for rest before attempting the task of taking Botero to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back.
“Gina Nelson had a medical issue that prevented her from going to the bottom of the canyon this time but she plans to go to the bottom of the canyon in October,” Ebert said.
From the rim of the canyon to the Colorado River at the bottom is a vertical mile down, according to Tillinghast, “and the trail is about seven miles each way. About a mile and a half down the trail we saw some Bighorn sheep. Two of them started butting heads with each other only about 10 feet away from us. What an awesome opportunity that was!”
“We left at 6:30 a.m. and reached the bottom at about 5:30 p.m.,” Ebert said. “We spent about a half hour there at the Colorado River and then turned around and started back for the top.”
The return required about 11-1/2 hours, according to Tillinghast. “We met some serious hikers along the trail who thought we were crazy,” he said, to be attempting the feat.
“On the way back we were about a mile and a half from the rim when we encountered a thunderstorm,” Gold said. “We were able to get to shelter at that point. We were exhausted. There were some of us lying around catching quick naps in puddles.”
“We saw some real heroism in that last mile and a half,” Tillinghast said. “Here we were with bodies that didn’t want to do anymore but we knew we had to to make it out of the canyon. Several of the people found something in themselves they never knew they had.”
“Our crew was really spent,” Ebert acknowledged. “We’re opening up the most difficult places in the world to a whole different population.”
He said the national park officials at the Grand Canyon have expressed a desire to place the two Alpenglow Adventures devices in a museum at the park’s visitors’ center. The park has offered to purchase new devices to replace them, according to Ebert.
“Speaking as somebody who’s been involved in a lot of sports, this is the greatest team-building activity I’ve ever been a part of,” Tillinghast said.
For more information about the Alpenglow Adventure trips being planned, or about Camp Kysoc and its programs, call Ebert at (502) 732-5333.