Colorado hikers, one blind and one in a wheelchair, use their strengths to help each other climb mountains

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Last year, Trevor Hahn climbed a 17,000-foot peak near Mount Everest. This year, he is training with his hiking partner for a Colorado climb that may be even more grueling.

“I’m a huge outdoor enthusiast,” Hahn told FOX31. “Just getting into the back country where you don’t see a soul.”

A Colorado native, he has taken a particular interest in hiking. He has even reached the summit of about a dozen of Colorado’s famous “14ers”, or 14,000-foot peaks.

“I just love to be on top of a mountain because I can hear the expanse around me,” Hahn said.

Hahn has been legally blind since he was born. He suffers from macular degeneration, iritis and glaucoma.

“Ten years ago, I could drive a car. Five years ago, it went downhill and I could only see light after that,” Hahn said. “I can only see light now. No shapes, really.”

He learned how to hike using adaptive techniques like following the sound of bells or with voice commands from his hiking partners. That’s how he climbed the 17,575-foot summit of Gokyo Ri mountain in Nepal.

“But it didn’t really give me a purpose. Like, I was just following this bell,” Hahn said. “It would be really cool if I could have a purpose on the trail.”

In summer 2018, Hahn and his wife Mandy attended a function with No Barriers USA, a non-profit based in Fort Collins which helps people with disabilities do adaptive sports and other activities. That’s where they met Melanie Knecht.

“He was telling me just about how he’s been guided up mountains like using a voice system and I’m like, 'Well, I have a voice,'" Knecht told FOX31.

Knecht was born with spina bifida. She uses a wheelchair to get around and has never had the ability to walk.

“At this point, I wouldn’t want to walk. This is all I know. I’m 30 years old, what am I going to do? Just start walking all of the sudden?” she said.

Their friendship blossomed and they came up with an idea they call “Hiking with Sight”.

They got a specially designed harness that Knecht can sit in. Hahn wears the harness like a backpack. It gives Knecht the ability to see over Hahn’s shoulders to guide him on the trail. In return, Hahn carries Knecht to parts of the trail otherwise inaccessible to her.

“We both serve a purpose on the trail and a huge responsibility to each other,” Hahn said.

Knecht uses voice commands to keep Hahn on the footpath and away from rocks, boulders, cliffs and other dangers that could cause them to fall.

“Just working on different things like endurance, inclines, working through a lot of boulders, logs,” Knecht said.

They also plan to try a stream crossing together soon.

For Knecht, the toughest part is balancing the need to vocalizing the obstacles ahead with enjoying the surrounding beauty. Plus, because they’re friends, she says sometimes she just wants to chat with Hahn too.

“I want to describe what we’re seeing so Trevor has a mental picture,” Knecht said. “Then, I have to be like, 'Oh gosh, we’re turning left!'”

For Hahn, the toughest part is the physical load and endurance. He needs to stop often on the trail for rest breaks while he’s still building up his muscles.

Knecht and Hahn say they aren’t out to prove anything to anyone. They simply want to experience the mountains in the best way possible.

“If you have a crazy idea, find another person that also agrees with that crazy idea and then it’s not crazy anymore. It’s just an idea,” Knecht said.

The end goal might seem crazy to some. But to the hikers, it’s just a great idea.

“We’re going to do one of the Colorado fourteeners. A 14,000-foot peak,” Hahn said.

It will take a team to help them hike it and they know it will be a difficult journey to the top. For the friends, though, they say the journey is the best part.

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