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Deaf American couple defies all odds, scales Everest, Lhotse

Posted June 5, 2023 | By HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE | The Himalayan Times




Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger waving from the top of the world, Mt Everest.

KATHMANDU, JUNE 4

Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger, both born profoundly deaf, have created history in mountain climbing this season. The US-based deaf couple stood atop Mt Everest on May 22 and also made it to the top of Mt Lhotse the next day.


After scaling the world's highest and fourth tallest peaks, they not only set their personal records but also defied all odds amplifying global awareness about the deaf and hard of hearing community.


Shayna became the first deaf woman to reach this pinnacle, and Scott the first deaf American to reach the summit of Mt Everest.


"They also became the first deaf couple to scale both Everest and Lhotse in a season," Mingma Sherpa, Chairman at Seven Summit Treks, said.


It had always been a dream of ours to climb the world's highest mountain, the couple told THT after returning from the summit.


"However, in 2017, our dream of climbing Everest was dampened upon learning Nepal government's decision to ban disabled climbers from attempting to climb mountains. We were in a state of shock, questioning whether our disability would prevent us from climbing the mountain. Nevertheless, our hope was reignited in 2018 when the Supreme Court overturned the ban," they said.


"Finally, on May 22, at 6:00 am, we defied all odds and found ourselves standing on the top of the world," the couple stated. "It was an exhilarating experience sitting up there for nearly 30 minutes, soaking in the beauty of the expansive Himalayan range, along with the radiant sunrise and knowing that we cold do anything we set our minds to, despite the barriers we have experienced in our lives," they added.

Climbing Mt Everest for them is more than just reaching the summit. "It's about amplifying global awareness about the deaf and hard of hearing community, enhancing accessibility to information and education regarding mountain climbing, and increasing representation of deaf and disabled individuals in the outdoors, they said, adding, "We hope with our double 8000m summits of Everest and Lhotse, we are shattering the misconceptions and breaking down barriers surrounding disabilities, particularly for deaf and hard of hearing."


The couple had already climbed some of the world's highest mountains, like Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Denali, Mont Blanc and Matterhorn. To this date, Everest remains one of the most challenging mountains they have ever climbed. "We underwent nine months of intensive training for the expedition.


It's not only difficult due to high altitude, but the immense physical and mental challenges. From enduring lengthy waits for favourable weather conditions to facing the physical exertion and demanding endurance required, every aspect of this climb is challenging," the couple told THT.


One of the most exciting moments for them was when their guides - Mingma Dorchi Sherpa and Mingma Tenje Sherpa - took the initiative to learn some sign language from them. "This allowed us to establish effective communication during our climb. Their willingness to accommodate our communication needs made us comfortable and enabled us to ascend Mt Everest with the same efficiency as everyone else on the mountain," the couple shared.


"Some climbers need to climb a bit differently, but it doesn't mean they are incapable of climbing mountains," they said, asking, "Let's create spaces where outdoor spaces are truly accessible and welcoming to all so everyone can connect and explore the wonders of nature."

Sherpas are the heart and soul of the Mt Everest expeditions. "We have nothing, but a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for them," they said.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 5, 2023, of The Himalayan Times.

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