Portland man helping blind veteran summit Mt. Everest

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 10:23 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – On Tuesday afternoon, a plane will leave from Portland for Kolkata, India. On board will be a man trying to help his blind friend climb the world’s tallest mountain and break a world record while they’re at it.

Portland man Michael Neal will depart from PDX with his friend Lonnie, a blind veteran, to climb Mount Everest together.

“I’m a mixed bag, I have a lot of to-dos to do today,” says Neal. “A lot of stuff that needs to get done today.”

Packing bags to travel across the world to tackle the world’s tallest mountain – for the second time.

“If it weren’t for Lonnie, I wouldn’t be going back. I met Lonnie four years ago and we’ve been goofing off since then,” Neal says.

Lonnie Bedwell and Michael Neal first met on a mountain in Argentina

“I heard that a blind man was climbing that mountain, and I thought it can’t be true.”

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To Neal’s surprise, there was, and the two became fast friends.

“Very kind, very approachable person and is so brave. Sometimes I forget how amazing it is what he does.”

Neal says his friend is 100 percent blind and was the first blind man to kayak the Colorado River. The two together have summited mountains in the past, Lonnie’s trademark is his overalls he always wears, and his adventures have become an inspiration.

“A lot of other blind veterans struggle. They lose their eyesight and they can’t find purpose in their life and try to figure out their role and it’s hard for them.”

Neal says Bedwell challenges himself to prove to others that they can do it too.

“You can have vision despite being blind. His vision takes him places, and where could it take someone who’s sighted?”

The two kickstarted sightless summits, Bedwell dedicating himself to helping other blind vets. Neal says these adventures that can get pricey are now funded by donations.

“When it came time for him to ask for help the outpouring of support, especially from the blind community has been tremendous. But it’s also inspirational. He goes and does something that is really inspiring that motivates them in their lives to do something equally challenging for themselves.”

And eventually, the inevitable came up.

“And Everest is on everybody’s sights. It’s something to strive for. It’s an accomplishment. Doing it with a blind man definitely increases the challenge and risk level.”

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They’ll need to navigate small bridges and crevasses, on a mountain known to be very dangerous.

If successful, Lonnie will be the fourth blind man to summit Everest but they’re not stopping there. They plan to summit the mountain’s neighbor, Lohtse, which would make Lonnie the first blind man to conquer both.

“To get done with it and then go right back up, that’s a lot to ask. Especially for a blind man. He doesn’t have the same visual queues that you and I have. Our eyesight is just a part of us. We know where our foot is going to land when we set it down. He doesn’t have that.”

Some may ask, isn’t climbing mountains for the breathtaking views at the peak – why do it blind?

“Because he truly believes it inspires other people, and the people he cares the most about are blinded veterans. The people he has spent the most of his time working with and trying to help live better lives.”

Follow along while Michael and Lonnie climb Everest by clicking here.