Health Team

How a double amputee conquered Everest, 43 years after his first attempt

Posted May 24, 2018 7:38 a.m. EDT

— It took five attempts and four decades for Chinese climber Xia Boyu to step onto the roof of the world.

On his first Everest attempt in 1975, Xia got frostbite and had to have his feet -- and later his legs -- amputated.

Undeterred, Xia went back again in 2014, 2015 and 2016. On that last attempt a blizzard forced him to turn back less than 100 meters from the summit.

"It's been a dream of mine for almost 40 years," Xia told CNN. "In the past, it was thwarted by the weather, such as earthquakes and avalanches."

On 14 May the 69-year-old finally realized his dream, making him the first double amputee to summit Everest from the Nepal side.

"This time after 40 years, Mountain Everest accepted me, finally," he said.

Mark Inglis of New Zealand, who also lost both legs to frostbite, was the first double amputee to reach the summit in 2006 from the Tibet side.

Scaling Everest with prosthetics adds another level of difficulty, said Xia, because it is difficult to feel the ground beneath you.

"Whatever you are standing on, what kind of roads you walk on, whether it is flat or bumpy. They [prosthetics] do not give you any sensations. You have to learn to feel it day-to-day. To find the feeling."

Added to this, Xia said he had to utilize his body strength to maintain balance as the prosthetics cannot be adjusted to the angles of going uphill or downhill. "I have to have one-third more physical strength than normal people," he said.

But Xia almost never made it to Everest this year.

In 2017 the Nepali government banned double amputees, blind, and solo climbers from attempting Everest in a bid to reduce accidents and climbing-related deaths.

But the Supreme Court overturned the decision, allowing people like Xia to obtain climbing permits.

"I have learnt from my journey to the top that you should advance bravely no matter what harsh conditions you face, never give up on your ambition," said Xia.

"This is the power of persistence, the reward of me never giving up."