ANCHORAGE, Alaska - He is a world-class adventurer who now spends days on end in bed at his Anchorage apartment, relying on a caretaker to help him with mundane activities, such as walking.
But Norman Vaughan is determined to celebrate his 100th birthday by scaling the 10,300-foot mountain in Antarctica that bears his name. And listening to his surprisingly robust voice, it's easy to believe he just might do it, despite his congestive heart disease. At least his spirit is willing.
"I'm working on getting physically fit, to get rid of that thing," he said, kicking a steel walker at the foot of his hospital-style bed.
If not, professional climbers taking part in the planned December expedition will pull Vaughan in a specially rigged sled dubbed the "Norm-Hauler." However he gets to the summit of Mount Vaughan, he plans to break out the champagne. It would be the first taste of alcohol for the teetotaler.
"The only liquor I've ever had was the taste of wine at communion," he said. "I told my mother I wouldn't drink until I was 100 and she said, 'That's all right."'
The mountain was named by Adm. Richard Byrd after Vaughan joined his 1928 South Pole expedition as part of a crew driving dog teams 1,500 miles across frozen terrain to collect geological samples and other research specimens.
Vaughan was born Dec. 19, 1905. He first climbed to the summit of the mountain with his wife and others three days before his 89th birthday, slowed only by an artificial knee.
Since the 1994 climb, Vaughan has had triple bypass surgery. He uses a wheelchair to go long distances. But he's begun an exercise regime to condition himself for the upcoming climb, spending hours at a therapeutic pool, walking whenever and wherever he can, he said.
At least 16 people, including medics and climbers, have signed on, said his wife, Carolyn Muegge-Vaughan, 62, who is organizing the trip. She also is heading an effort to raise the estimated $2 million cost of the excursion. So far, organizers have collected about $33,000 through a 99th birthday fund-raiser, said Muegge-Vaughan, who also is seeking corporate sponsors, including a champagne company.
"We have a long way to go," she said. "We've got a lot of different irons in the fire."
Veteran mountaineer Brian Horner is among the climbers planning to take Vaughan up the mountain. Horner, who runs a survival skills school in Anchorage, doesn't believe Vaughan will be able to tackle the climb because of his frail condition.
"I don't think we have enough time, seeing how long it takes him to make it up my stairs," said Horner, who participated in a failed expedition in 1993. "His brain is there completely, but his body is letting him down, which is a shame."
Last week, Horner and other expedition members practiced on a local mountain, towing Vaughan on the custom sled equipped with a pulley system.
Try expressing any doubts about his stamina, though, and Vaughan quotes his oft-repeated motto, "Dream big and dare to fail." He credits that attitude for enabling him to complete the first climb on Mount Vaughan, a year after an initial excursion failed.
The 1993 attempt was to have included sled dogs - the last mushing expedition before an international ban on dogs went into effect. But the expedition was cut short when one of the team's two planes crashed, killing some of the dogs and injuring those on board.
"(The 1994 climb) was the climax of our dream," he said. "We had to risk failure to get there. We dared to fail."
At age 92, he organized and participated in the first Nenana-to-Nome run that, like the Iditarod, commemorates the delivery of lifesaving diptheria serum to Nome in 1925 - a 775-mile excursion that has become a yearly event.