The first time Xia Boyu tried to climb Mount Everest, he lost his feet.
It was 1975, and Boyu was headed up the mountain with a Chinese national mountaineering team. They had made it to about 28,215 feet, but that’s when a nasty winter storm set in. For two days and three nights the team endured subzero temperatures, made worse for Boyu, who decided to loan his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who had fallen ill.
By the end of the unsuccessful climb, his feet were numb with severe frostbite, requiring amputation.
Twenty years later, both of his legs would be amputated, too, after he developed lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer.
But none of that stopped Boyu from trying to climb Mount Everest again and again and again. Finally, on Monday morning, he reached the 29,029-foot summit on his fifth attempt.
Boyu, who is 69 or 70 years old, according to news reports, became at least the third double amputee in history to scale the mountain and the first to do it on the Nepal side, a Nepal Ministry of Culture and Tourism official confirmed to the local Kathmandu Post.
Dawa Futi Sherpa of Imagine Trek and Expedition, which organized the climb and accompanied him up the mountain, told The Washington Post that Boyu completed the climb with several other members of his team.
To Boyu, reaching the summit “represents a personal challenge, a challenge of fate,” he told Japan Times in April.
“Climbing Mount Everest is my dream,” he said then. “I have to realize it.”
He almost didn’t get to.
In December, the Nepal government banned double amputees and people who are blind from climbing mountains in effort to reduce the number of accidents. The new rules immediately drew criticism from disability rights organizations that said such a ban was discriminatory. It affected not only Boyu, but also a former Gurkha soldier, Hari Budha Magar, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan and who was also planning to scale Mount Everest.
Boyu had already been dealing with a spate of bad luck at the time the ban went into effect. For the past three consecutive years, he tried to reach Mount Everest’s summit and he failed all three times, mostly due to natural disasters.
In 2014, he had trained for the climb and returned to the mountain, for the first time since 1975 — but then his climb got canceled after an avalanche killed 16 other climbers. In 2015, he prepared again only for the climb to be canceled due to a devastating earthquake in Nepal. And in 2016, he nearly made it. But with 656 feet left to climb a treacherous blizzard forced him to turn back, Japan Times reported.
So when the Nepal government issued its ban in December, Boyu told Japan Times he “panicked,” afraid that perhaps he had lost his chance for good.
Three months later, however, Nepal’s high court overturned the ban on double amputee and blind climbers, agreeing that it discriminated against disabled people.
Within weeks, Boyu applied for his climbing permit.
Boyu joins Mark Inglis of New Zealand as at least the second person without legs to climb the world’s tallest mountain. Inglis completed his climb in 2006 as the first double amputee to reach the summit from the Chinese side. Sudarshan Gautam, a Nepali-born Canadian, became the first person to climb Mount Everest without arms in 2013.
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