69 Year Old Chinese Double Amputee Conquers Everest

May 21, 2018

Mount Everest has long been the one impossible mountain where big dreams and determined climbers have met their untimely death. The many frozen-in-time carcasses that litter the mountain are proof not only of its cruelty, but of its timeless, near obsessive attraction to men and women of action. But recently, one Chinese mountaineer proved that no dream is too impossible to accomplish when, after twelve previous attempts, he finally summited the world’s tallest peak. But here’s the thing that makes him a MudTribe Hall of Fame top pick: he did it at 69 years old and with both his legs amputated.

Xia Boyu (Source: GearJunkie)

According to the New York Times, Xia Boyu, a native of Sichuan, China, first attempted the daring climb back in 1975 where he and his team encountered avalanches and a massive storm. Just 500 ft from the summit, the bad weather forced the team back down. When one of his team members lost his sleeping bag, the then 26 year old Xia offered up his. That one kind gesture cost him both his feet when frost bite resulted in a double amputation. Fast forward two decades and a battle with lymphoma necessitated more amputation, this time losing what was left of his legs below the knees. You would think that a man rendered so severely disabled might give up on his dream to conquer the world’s mightiest mountain, but Xia is not the kind of man who allows a small bump-in-the-road, like the loss of both legs, to get in his way. Fact is, he never stopped dreaming of making the climb. He also never stopped training or planning for it.

Everest summit and prayer flags

He attempted the climb again in 2014 when he was in his late sixties. The attempt was met with tragedy when 16 climbers were killed when the serac (an unstable glacial column) they were crossing collapsed in an ice avalanche. Not to be deterred, Xia made it back for the 2015 season, but the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal cut that expedition off in its tracks. In 2016, he came within 300 feet of Everest’s summit, but the weather once more turned against him.

Then came the worst blow of all. While waiting for his climbing permit for yet another attempt in 2017, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism banned all double amputees from the mountain altogether. However, in a subsequent ruling, the country’s Supreme Court overturned the ban and Xia was free to climb again.

You might have guessed by now that Xia, a thin, wiry man of tip-top condition, is not the first double amputee to attempt the Everest climb. The Guardian reports that he’s the second climber to achieve the summit after Mark Inglis, a New Zealander, reached it from the Tibetan side back in 2006. Climber Santiago Quintero, who’d lost half of both feet while on a climb in South America, peaked in 2013. The double amputee club might be small, and they might not have all their limbs, but they sure do make up for it in balls.

Xia Bouy crossing an ice ladder on the Khumbu icefall (Source: Time)

Monday, May 13, 2016, 8:26AM. 161km northeast of Kathmandu. Fresh snow whips Xia’s face. The snow freezes to his goggles, limiting his vision. His breathing is shallow, his O2-deprived lungs surviving on the supplemental, life-sustaining bottled oxygen he and his team carry. He’s surrounded on all side by 70 million year old, ice-covered rock. The relentless wind whips and pounds. It seems to penetrate his protective clothing and gear. He’s wearing prosthetic devices for legs, but even if the legs he was born with were still attached, he wouldn’t feel his feet anyway. 

He holds fast to ropes prepared by his eight man Sherpa team. The ropes are the only thing that exist between his mortality and the almighty. They will guide him to the summit. Without them he will surly loose his way and freeze to death in a matter of minutes. Each step is agony. He’s moving in slow motion. But he’s also driven like never before. He is of a singular mind. He’s been to this place so many times before only to be turned back by death, pain, and failure.

But now, while the white clouds speed past patches of blue heavenly sky and bright sunlight illuminates the jagged peak, Xia manages the final few steps and in the process achieves what only two men before him have accomplished. He has summited the highest peak in the world. The 70 year old cancer survivor has not only touched the sky, he has come face to face with God.

Xia Boyu on Everest (image courtesy of Xia Boyu)

In response to Xia’s stunning accomplishment and his never ending force of will, Sherpa Ang Tshering, President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said, “Everything is possible. I have found that disabled climbers work hard and they are very committed. It’s a great example to the world about their success.”

GearJunkie reports that the good weather over Everest is presently peaking. More than 450 adventurers are expected to summit this season. 340 of them will make it happen via the south side route, and another 120 from the north side. All of them enjoy the use of all their limbs.