22 Summits Stories

Blind on the Breithorn


At seven o'clock in the morning on 20 June 2016, a very special rope team set off for the Breithorn, one of the 22 4000m peaks around Zermatt. The rope team was special because local mountain guide Norbert Julen, as well as Dutch mountain guide Jelle Staleman, led two blind brothers up the Breithorn.


The brothers Marnix and Reinoud, at the time 22 and 15 years old, suffer from LHON, Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a rare hereditary disease that leads to a loss of central vision within a short period of time.


At 10.00 a.m., just before the rope team reached the summit, Marnix asked his mountain guide Norbert what was going on. He said: '20 metres next to us, it's going down a kilometre'. I could not use this information at that moment. Our other senses are much better developed than in healthy people, but at least I could see until I was twenty. I have visual components stored in my brain. I have a feeling for what goes on in the mountains. That connects with what the mountain guides told me about the surroundings.


Then finally at 10.30 they reached the summit. Marnix recounts: "It was an incredibly good life experience. I had lost most of my vision in two years. What I got back then was to go skiing again. There's always a lot more possible than you first think - and climbing the Breithorn is one of them. I climbed a 4000-metre mountain! Compared to that, smaller things like studying and working are nothing." The love of nature and skiing still unites the Dutch brothers very much today.