A mountaineer who lost a third of his feet through frostbite on Everest had to learn to walk again, and then went back to climbing [as you would ...]. He climbs without oxygen.
Michael Groom is unquestionably one of the world’s greatest 'big' mountain climbers. In 1999 he successfully climbed Makalu, the smallest and for Michael, the last of the 'big five' - the five highest mountains in the world. Makalu, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga, K2 and Everest. Michael climbed them all without the assistance of bottled oxygen, and all but Kangchenjunga he climbed without the front third of both feet.
In 1987, descending from the summit of Kangchenjunga, his first big five mountain, he suffered crippling frostbite and later had the front of both feet amputated. He was advised to get a desk job, and that his climbing days were definitely over. He succumbed to the incessant pain and sought refuge in painkillers. He became addicted. For two years Michael withdrew from the world and became yet another 'victim' of the wrath of the big mountains. He grew up in the wild Australian mountains, in a family of mountain climbers. During his very first abseil, at the tender age of 10, his dad talked him over the edge of a 100 metre cliff. Somehow, he got to the bottom, but had experienced a life threatening fear that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. The fear that Michael will tell you has saved him many times, when others have died. In the Himalayas, fear and respect are comfortable bedfellows. The big mountains demand your respect, and respect your fear. Twenty-five years later, sitting alone in his little workers cottage, completely lost and numbed by pain killers and daytime TV, he never felt further from his dream - to climb Mt Everest. Michael is not a quitter, and after enough time feeling sorry for himself and believing others about his condition, he decided that he would fulfil that dream. Slowly, ever so slowly, he trained himself to walk again. Then to run. A year later he was cycling and ready to start climbing again. First, small rock cliffs in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia, then back to where he belonged, in the big Himalayan mountains. He climbed Cho Oyu in 1990. In autumn 1991, an avalanche swept him 900 metres down the Lhotse face of Everest and once again, miraculously, he survived. In 1993, Michael returned to the Himalayas in peak fitness and climbed Everest, then in 1994, K2. In 1995, the unknown Brisbane plumber climbed Lhotse, becoming the fourth person in the world to climb the world's four highest mountains. More men had walked on the moon ! He has been close to tragedy many times, including the disastrous 1996 Everest attempt in which many climbers died. Michael was a guide on Rob Hall's Everest team, and of the six team-mates who reached the summit, only he and ‘Into Thin Air’ author Jon Krakauer survived. Only sheer will got him through. On the descent, in cruel and violent conditions, he stumbled across another American, Beck Weathers, who was now totally blind. Placing his own life in extreme danger, Michael tethered Beck to his harness and guided and lowered him down some of the most dangerous sections of the mountain. The storm killed half the team. Beck survived, but with crippling injuries to his hands and face. Michael returned home, shattered and disillusioned. It would be three years before the big mountains lured him back, and he at last summited the last of the big five, Makalu, in 1999. He was 40 years old.
Michael still lives in Brisbane, with his wife Judi and son Harry. He has been a professional speaker since 1991. He motivates soldiers going off to war, athletes struggling to come back from serious injury, professional people keen to get a little closer to the truth of 'no pain, no gain', and ordinary folk who just love to sit and listen to one of Australia’s most amazing human endeavour stories. Michael Groom’s autobiography 'Sheer Will' is a can't-put-down read. His personal presentation, accompanied with impossibly beautiful visuals, is to see the earth in its purest and rawest form - the way the earth was meant to be.