Xia Bojun was born in Chongqing in 1949. He was the first disabled Chinese person to climb Mount Everest. In 1974, he was chosen to join the Chinese National Mountaineering Team. The first time he climbed Mount Everest was in 1975. He helped his teammates, but his legs froze and had to be amputated. He has made five attempts to climb Everest using prosthetics. And on May 14, 2018, he finally successfully summited Mount Everest.
On May 9, 2016, Mr. Xia Bojun made his fourth ascent of Everest. When he reached the height of 8,750 meters, the mountain’s peak was only a little more than 300 feet away from him. Yet, an imminent blizzard meant letting go of his four decade goal—at least for the moment. The mountain suddenly burst into a blizzard, with visibility less than one meter. The mountain ridge at his foot was only 20 centimeters wide, and both sides were abyss. The gusty wind blew in his face, and he felt the bitter cold and pain. Xia thought: “If I only climbed the mountain by myself, I could continue to rush to the top.” ??But there were five Sherpa guides on his team, so the Chinese mountaineer reconsidered: “They have five families; I can’t risk their lives to help me.” So he stopped and turned back on the trail.
Forty-Three Years of Challenging the Impossible
At 10:41 a.m. on May 14th, 2018, Mr. Xia Bojun finally climbed to the top of Everest on his fifth attempt. On June 18, when I interviewed him, his skin was dark red and his cheeks were covered with ointment to heal his frostbite. After returning to Beijing, he’s met with various journalists every day. The arrival of the reporters made him a little embarrassed. Although he couldn’t remember who was coming today, he still took a chair quickly, sat down and got right into interview mood.
“When I reached the top, I was not as excited and as happy as I thought,” he said. He was prepared about what pictures he would take, what kinds of poses he would make, and what speech he would shout to the world; but he didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he just made a simple statement: “Today is 19… No, today is 8:31 on May 14th, 2018 (Nepal time); I am finally standing on the top of Mount Everest.” After saying this sentence, the blizzard came. He stayed at the top of the mountain for a total of ten minutes.
In 1975, Xia Bojun climbed Mount Everest for the first time. That year, he was 26 years old. He climbed to a height of only 200 meters from the peak, but due to bad weather, the team made the decision to abort the mission. While he rested for a night at 7600 meters, he let a Tibetan teammate use his sleeping bag since the teammate had dropped his own backpack off a cliff. When he returned to the 6500-meter camp, his feet were numb and severe frostbite had set in. In the end, Xia Bojun’s feet had to be amputated.
In 1996, the 47-year-old found a bump in the groin of his left leg, which was found to be cancerous at the stump. After four operations, including radiation treatment, he found that his life was counting down. He understood more deeply the importance of being alive. After radiation, he decided to begin training again. In 2011, he joined the first disabled rock climbing championship held in Italy. The 62-year-old Mr. Xia Bojun won two gold medals among 33 players from 11 countries. The dream of Everest ignited within him again.
In 2013, Xia Boyun challenged Everest after an injury, but accidentally fell. In 2014, he set off again to ascend Everest from Nepal, but an avalanche above Camp 2 killed 16 Nepalese Sherpa guides. In that year, all Everest climbing expeditions completely stopped. In 2015, Xia Boyun once again arrived at Everest Base Camp, but a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Nepal prevented him from reaching the summit and forced him to abandon his attempt when he was only 94 meters away. That was the “last time” he promised his family he would attempt Everest, but his physical training never stopped.
Dumbbells, sandbags and various sports equipment could be found everywhere in Xia Boyun’s home. He gets up at 4:00 am every morning to carry around 10 kg sandbags. He then does 150 squats, practicing 10 sets. He also included ten sets of 10 pull-ups. Then, he does six to eight sets of 60 push-ups and 60 sets of standing up and sitting down. He also used dumbbells to strengthen his biceps, along with other strength training devices. In all, he workes out two and a half hours each day. Then, he bikes 20 kilometers to Mount Xiangshan. He has continued strength training for more than 30 years.
In 2017, Mr. Xia Bojun hiked through the wilderness of the Tengger desert and the Yadan Gobi desert. “In fact, this series of hikes was my preparation for the fifth ascent of Everest, but I did not tell anyone. My family just thought I had a new sports hobby.” He had never given up his wish to reach the summit. The high-intensity walking made him feel confident about his physical condition, but this time his family’s opposition was very strong. The climb in 2016 resulted in a blood clot in his legs, so his doctors and family members put a double ban on his mountain climbing. In order to reassure his family, Xia Bojun went to the hospital for an examination. The doctor told him, “You can go,” which alleviated any worries. But, it turned out that Mr. Xia Bojun had a new blood vessel develop next to the original blood clot, thus allowing his blood to flow. The doctor told him, “The main road is impassable, so take the auxiliary road.” He then called his wife and replayed a recording of the doctor’s words on his mobile phone. “She had nothing to say,” he said.
In December 2017, Xia Bojun officially submitted his mountaineering procedure, but on New Year’s day of 2018, the Nepalese government issued a ban prohibiting individuals from summiting alone, while people who are blind and /or amputees were prohibited from climbing; however, Mr. Xia Bojun held the last glimmer of hope. Through the International Human Rights Organization, he sued the Nepalese government. The long wait not only consumed his energy, but also shortened his preparation time. Finally, on March 7, 2018, the Supreme Court of Nepal suspended the ban, and Xia Bojun rushed to Everest and began preparing his equipment. On April 12, his team arrived at Everest Base Camp.
Fighting Obstacles All the Way
After a series of rushed preparations, on the morning of May 8, Xia Bojun officially departed from the base camp of the south slope of Mount Everest. The terrifying glaciers were the first challenge he faced. The glacial fluidity had formed many ice walls and ice cracks, some as wide as four or five meters. They could only be passed through using the newly-made, one-foot wide ladders. Even though they’d done all their preparations at Base Camp, Xia Bojun was still nervous, “The ladder was shaking. A person with feet can adjust their balance using their ankle, but I can’t. My prosthetics cannot feel, so I had to crawl across the ladder.” The ice wall was a 50 to 60 degree angle covered with sparkling ice. One uses crampons for stability. A non-disabled person can step on the ice wall and plunge eight nails into the ice at the same time. Xia Bojun could not adjust the angles of his prosthetic feet, so he could only walk on his toes. Since each prosethic only has one nail that can touch the ice surface, it was a much more slippery experience for Xia Bojun. Undaunted, he walked across the horrorifying glacier for eight hours. For him, the path up was not the least bit easy.
The difficulty of the glaciers was expected, but even worse were the unknowns. The hardest part proved to be from the main climbing route up to the C5 camp. The C5 camp was 8,400 meters above sea level. They’d created a special road for him to prevent his prosthetic leg from grinding into the ice. He had never walked this road before. It was a small narrow road that sloped up and down, with only one rope in the middle. Step by step, he used his prosthesis with limited bending and squatting to test the road while holding onto a rope. Although it was only 65 feet to C5 camp, the walk took him half an hour. “I was aware of all the other difficulties, but this was unexpected.” Although this was not the first time Xia Bozhen spoke about the experience, his voice became unnatural and trembled when he spoke. The memories ignited a near panic attack.
The process of descending the mountain was frought with danger. Due to the long climbing time, Xia Bojun’s legs were so swollen he couldn’t wear his prosthetic limbs. The spot that connected the prostheses to his stump became loose and almost unstable. When he moved, his legs would pop out of the prostheses. Nonetheless, biting his teeth, he walked all the way down, facing snowstorms along the way. Once the visibility was no more than two meters, his glasses were frozen with a layer of ice. He had to take off his gloves and rub the ice off. When Xia Bojun raised his hands, his fingertips were still black and numb.
The blizzard had covered many of the ice cracks, leaving invisible dangers everywhere. Then a terrible thing happened. Once Xia Bojun stepped into an ice seam and became stuck, leaving his prosthetic limb out of control. It was completely beyond his ability. “The whole leg fell into the seam. I was afraid that the prosthetic limb would fall off. At that moment, I found a piece of elastic clothing and wrapped it around the joint of the prosthesis. I was afraid that it would be loose, so I dare not move,” he said. A guide tried to expand the ice a little bit and grabbed the prosthesis with his hand, pulling it out of the crevice. “Thank God! I was on the top, but I had to go down too,” said Xia Bojun. He still remembers vividly how terrified he was in that moment: “I could see the lights in the camp flashing in the distance, but I couldn’t get away; it hurt too much. The road felt like purgatory.” It took Xia Bojun three hours of walking to reach the last few six hundred feet to camp. After arriving, his prosthetic limbs could no longer be worn.
Although summiting was the most unforgettable moment of the journey, he found the downhill path was the most difficult he’d ever traveled in his life.
But, nonetheless, Xia Bojun summit of Mount Everest was a triumph. He still remembers hearing a team member say: “Mr. Xia has ten minutes to go up… There are still 8 minutes… 5 minutes… 1 minute… Ah! Mr. Xia Bojun is on the top.” After reaching the summit, he heard the cheers on the phone from the base camp. For one moment, on the top of Mount Everest, Xia Bojun just watched the tip of a mountain that emerged from under billowy white clouds. Then his teammates snapped pictures with him. “Although I don’t see any specific scenery at all, I know that my right hand side is in China,” he said. Since another blizzard came earlier than expected, his ten-minute stay at the peak was the culmination of a 43-year journey. At 8844.43 meters, Mount Everest finally made his dream came true!
This story is part of a series of articles published as an exclusive editorial exchange between China Press for People with Disabilities & Spring Breeze and ABILITY Magazine.