An Australian paraplegic who lost the use of his legs as a teenager has climbed to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, using mostly his hands, and the occasional piggyback ride from a friend.
Everest Base Camp can only be reached by foot or helicopter, and the trek usually takes between nine to 12 days to complete.
Scott Doolan, 28, managed to do it in 10 days, becoming the first paraplegic to complete the feat with minimal assistance.
Using a technique he calls “wheelbarrowing”, Mr Doolan scaled steep ascents with the help of his friend, Matt Laycock.
“As we were trekking we had people stop and cry and tell us we were amazing, and that emotion is so raw, I think that was probably more of a highlight than reaching Base Camp,” he said.
Mr Doolan navigated the 65-kilometre track from Lukla to Base Camp, using a combination of a lightweight carbon-fibre wheelchair – walking on his hands while someone held his ankles, and sometimes being carried.
I’d do as much as I could in a chair, and when there were sections of stairs I’d get out on my hands and sort of walk along on my hands or jump on the back of a sherpa or Matt.”
Mr Doolan and Mr Laycock, both from Newcastle, trained for their expedition by climbing mountains in New South Wales.
While they prepared for altitude sickness by wearing oxygen-restricting masks during training, they both struggled to overcome the real thing.
“It feels like someone’s putting a hand over your mouth when you’re trying to breathe or sitting on your chest,” he said.
Mr Doolan said he also suffered from culture shock on what was his first trip to Nepal.
“It opens your eyes up that we take a lot of things for granted back in Australia,” he said.
‘I was some sort of alien’
Mr Doolan was injured in a motorbike accident when he was 17.
He said it took him a couple of years to return to a frame of mind where he could enjoy life.
He discovered a passion for fitness in his 20s, which led him and Mr Laycock to set their goal of climbing to Base Camp.
The sight of a paraplegic man making the famous trek stunned some of the locals.
“They’d give me some weird looks,” he said. “They hadn’t seen something like this before – like, I was some sort of alien.”
Mr Laycock said the mental and physical challenges of the trek were unrelenting.
“People don’t think about the minor things in having a paraplegic or someone in a wheelchair up on the mountain,” he said.
“Like going to the toilet or going up and down to your bedroom, that kind of stuff is the unseen – but it definitely made us closer.”
The famous trek begins at an elevation of 2200 metres and is 5500 metres at the conclusion.
‘There were times I wanted to quit’
Even fit trekkers succumb to altitude sickness as they ascend.
Mr Doolan climbed with a team of a dozen, including local guides and porters. He said during steep ascents, it was not uncommon to see fellow trekkers clapping and cheering him on.
“There were times I wanted to quit, but I knew with what I’ve been through before in life, I could get through this,” he said.
“I was just thinking of the finish line, that visual picture of Base Camp.”
Mr Doolan has now set his sights on competing as a swimmer in the 2020 Paralympics.
“Your mind is your only limitation,” he said.
“You just need to take that first step out of your comfort zone.”