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Frank Gray

Courtesy of Cameron Tribolet
Cameron Tribolet, right, climbs Mount Whitney with his guide this month.

Success defined by attempt, not result

Courtesy of Cameron Tribolet
Cameron Tribolet made it to 10,000 feet on 14,500-foot Mount Whitney before facing an insurmountable outcrop of rock.

Cameron Tribolet did not make it to the top of Mount Whitney.

He has no reason, though, to be ashamed that he didn’t make it to the peak of the lower 48 states’ tallest peak.

As his guide pointed out, as far as he knows Tribolet was the first man with no legs, two artificial shoulders, carbon knuckles and pins in his thighs to even try to climb the mountain. He did make it 10,000 feet, though, before encountering an outcrop of rock that made it impossible for him to continue on that approach.

We wrote about Tribolet this month. In 1986, an unknown assailant shot him while he sat at a traffic light. His bowel and aorta were punctured, and later an infection and failed repairs to his aorta cut off blood flow to his legs, which then developed gangrene and had to be removed.

For the next year Tribolet, who was 23, considered his life over and pondered suicide.

But then he went hunting with a friend and suddenly realized he could do plenty of things without legs. Since then he’s pursued as many activities as he can think of, including skiing, scuba diving, bungee jumping, among others.

The idea to climb Mount Whitney came along two years ago when a man announced he was looking for 10 people with disabilities to climb the mountain. That expedition never got funding, but the idea had been planted in Tribolet’s head, and he was determined to try it.

Starting in January, Tribolet teamed with a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness at Georgetown, learned to walk on his artificial legs without canes for the first time, and this month headed out for the Sierra Nevadas, planning to spend his 25th wedding anniversary on the mountain with his wife, Sudan.

His first day, Tribolet said, left him with “lots of bruises, bumps and scrapes. It was a lot of fun.”

Plans to make it to the top of the peak ended when he came to the rock outcropping. He could have tried to defeat the barrier by gripping cracks in the rock, but without legs to help him climb the barrier was too much.

So Tribolet turned to Mount Langley, another peak in the Sierra Nevada range, where he tread along scary ledges as little as 10 inches wide, with sheer rock faces above and 1,000-foot drops below.

The next day he rappelled on sheer rock faces in a place called the Alabama Hills before coming home.

Tribolet isn’t finished with Mount Whitney, though.

“I will try again,” he says. “It’s on my mind now, and I can’t get it off my mind.”

There are plenty of ways to reach the summit of the mountain. Some routes are killers. Others are easier. There is a route on the other side of the mountain that his guide says he could complete in seven days.

“I’m still tossing it around,” he says.

Meanwhile, Tribolet plans to do some kayaking in class V and VI rapids, try out skydiving and then do some snow skiing at Jackson Hole, Wyo., where his guide on Mount Whitney works in the winter.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.