Buncrana woman who is blind from birth completes Mount Everest Base Camp trek

An intrepid Buncrana woman, who is blind, has told of her ‘incredible’ trek to Mount Everest Base Camp earlier this month.

Jennifer Doherty joined nine other people from Donegal, led by athlete and mountaineer Jason Black, on the expedition to the highest base camp on the planet.

The route followed the original 1953 Tenzing and Hillary route through the Khumbu Valley and every member of the team completed the trek, which Jason described as ‘emotional beyond belief’.

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Jennifer’s trek was funded by Donegal Centre for Independent Living, under their Opportunity Fund and the centre held a homecoming event for her on Wednesday to congratulate her on her success.

Jennifer Doherty pictured at her homecoming party with DCIL staff and representatives and Jason Black (far right)

Speaking to the Journal, Jennifer quipped that she thought Jason Black was ‘off his head’ when he first approached her about the trip, but ended up ‘loving every minute’ of it. She explained how it also re-ignited her love of the outdoors and travel and she now wants to ‘do everything and go everywhere’.

“Jason contacted me out of nowhere about a week before Christmas and asked if he could come to see me. He came to the house - I didn’t know why he was coming - and told me all about himself. He said he was taking a group to Everest Base Camp and thought it was something he thought I might be interested in. I thought: ‘This boy is off his head.’ But he started to tell me about it and said he had already been in touch with DCIL, who had contacted base camp and would fund the trek. He told me to take Christmas to think about it. It wasn’t anything I’d even thought of before, but just before he left I told him that I was going to tell him that I’d do it, as if he left, I would have decided not to. Over the next few months, I got to meet him and do training and then I really couldn’t wait to go.”

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The trek is a difficult one to navigate, but Jennifer said that Jason didn’t want to give her special treatment or ‘sympathy’ as she’s blind.

“I didn’t want any special treatment either. Jason wanted me to be a part of the team and so did I. I wanted to do the trek like everyone else.”

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Jennifer (holding the flag on right) at Mt Everest Base Camp with the rest of the team.

Jennifer and the team undertook training in the Blue Stack Mountains before the trip, ‘to make sure we were fit enough’. On the trip itself, she walked alongside members of the team and ‘everyone pulled together and got stuck in’.

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“Everyone was so helpful and it was the best of craic.”

Jennifer said that while the trek was ‘tough,’ she was ‘very lucky’ not to suffer any altitude sickness. She outlined how it is not only a physical challenge, but a ‘huge mental challenge’.

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“But, I couldn’t wait to get out and do it every day. There was so much peace being out there and I had some really interesting conversations with people. Everything about it was so good and I loved every minute of it. I laughed so much.”

Jennifer told how she met others going up to base camp or coming back down and they were exhausted, ‘but they’d look at me and see how I was doing it and it gave them a push to keep on going’.

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She said the decision to take a route that was not commercial really paid off, as they got to visit villages, schools and received a blessing from Buddhist monks. “The base camp day (on May 11) wasn’t the only brilliant day. While that was the end goal, every other day was also brilliant. We got to do so many things others might not experience.” Jennifer said she was also carried by Sherpas over a particularly difficult section, which meant she had to experience it in a way others wouldn’t.“There were very difficult steps but it’s an area a lot of people want to see and experience. I couldn’t experience that, but the Sherpas were so lovely and I got to feel the speed they went down the steps and how they navigated it.”

Since returning home, Jennifer has been receiving lots of questions and congratulations on completing the trek, which she didn’t expect. “I went up the town in Buncrana the other day and it took me 40 minutes to get home and it normally takes 10! So many people were stopping me. It was a tough trek, but you felt absolutely brilliant every day when you completed it. It really showed me that I’m so much stronger than I ever thought I was.”