LIVERMORE -- A wheelchair athlete fell short last week on his first attempt to become the first person to cross the Sierra in a wheelchair, but he's anxious to make another try next year.
Bob Coomber, of Livermore, said he turned back partway up the 11,760-foot-tall Kearsarge Pass near Independence after he became sick and dehydrated due to an equipment problem with a device that automatically dispenses insulin to manage his diabetes.
With his blood sugar out of whack, Coomber decided Sept. 25 to abandon the rigorous wheelchair trip that started about 9,200 foot elevation about 2,500 feet below the pass.
Three friends accompanied him.
"I didn't make it up the pass this time, but it took me four times to climb White Mountain," said Coomber, a long-time disabled athlete and motivational speaker. "I will try it again."
In August 2007, he scaled 14,000-foot White Mountain, a day hike for an experienced foot hiker, three days for Coomber. White Mountain in Mono County is the third-highest peak in the state. It took 11 hours the last day to make it to the summit, he said, navigating switchback after switchback.
Coomber's trek is more difficult than those on foot because he must wheel himself uphill and over rocky surfaces with poor traction. He sometimes must get out of the wheelchair and lie on the ground while dragging the wheelchair over and around boulders.
Now 58, Coomber was 35 when he realized diabetes had made his bones too brittle to support his weight and he would need a wheelchair to get around.
For years, Coomber has hiked more than 100 Bay Area parks. He is a member of the East Bay Regional Park District's Park Advisory Committee, an all-volunteer citizens' group, and gives talks to schools and clubs to emphasize that disabled people can also get out and enjoy nature.
Correspondent Linda Davis also contributed to this story. Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.