Skydiving. Ice climbing. Kayaking Class V rapids. These are the sports for which you'd think a pair of functioning eyes might be essential. But for the past two decades, 48-year-old Weihenmayer has been proving otherwise. As an infant, he was diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition retinoschisis, leaving him fully blind by the time he was a teenager. Rather than give in to a safe life, he fought to stay active. During high school, a camp sent him rock climbing, and Weihenmayer turned out to be a natural, able to feel his way up the wall. He loved the sport so much that he took it up in earnest, and in 1996 he pulled off his first big climb, the 3,000-foot Nose route on Yosemite's El Capitan. "Erik is so competent on his own, and trusting of his partners," says climber Hans Florine, who joined Weihenmayer on El Cap, "that he lulls you into forgetting he can't see."
In 2001, he headed to Nepal with a small team and became the first (and still only) blind person to summit Mount Everest. Yet to Weihenmayer, his handicap is beside the point. "I'm not out there doing things to prove that blind people can do this or that," he says. "I just love it."
Weihenmayer spent the next seven years knocking off the seven summits. And still he continued pushing his limits: In 2010, riding with a tandem pilot, he finished Colorado's infamous Leadville 100 mountain bike race in under 12 hours. Then, in 2014, he teamed up with blind athlete Lonnie Bedwell to kayak the 277-mile length of the Grand Canyon, with Class IV rapids. The adventurers were directed by teammates using radios and echo-location "clicks." Still, Weihenmayer stresses that he is not an adrenaline junkie. "I've been motivated by joy and discovery," he says, "and what's possible."