In 1975, the Chinese climber Xia Boyu, then 25 years old, was attempting to summit Mount Everest with a team of his countrymen when things turned south. Boyu and his teammates got stuck at 8,600 meters—firmly in the “death zone”—for two days. Recounting the experience in 2007 during an interview with ExplorersWeb, Boyu said, “The following night, at 7,600 [meters], I gave my sleeping bag to one of them, and thus suffered from frostbite in both feet. … Back home, they gave me medals, but my frozen feet wouldn’t heal. I finally had [my legs] amputated [below the knee].”
Forty-three years later, on March 14, 2018, at 8:26 am Nepal time, Boyu took the final steps up to the summit of Everest on his state-of-the-art prosthetic legs. He is the third double-amputee to reach the summit: the New Zealand climber Mark Inglis was the first, in 2006, and Santiago Quintero, of Ecuador, was the second in 2013.
After his initial ill-fated expedition in 1975, Boyu’s Everest aspirations lay dormant for many years. Then, in 2014, at 65 years old, buoyed by the successes of climbers like Inglis and Quintero, Boyu decided to give Chomolungma another go. He signed onto expeditions in three consecutive years—2014, 2015 and 2016—only to have fate conspire against him again: an avalanche and an earthquake curtailed the climbing seasons in the first two years, respectively. In 2016, Boyu turned back just 94 meters shy of the summit as weather started to deteriorate—an all too familiar memory of 41 years before.
Even this year, Boyu’s chances were thrown into limbo. In December 2017, Nepal announced a slate of new rules for Everest, among them a ban on double-amputee climbers. Boyu’s plans weren’t the only ones derailed by the prospective ban: Hari Budha Magar, a Nepalese double-amputee climber, also had designs on attempting the mountain in 2018. (Magar would later postpone his attempt to a future season.)
Opposition to the seemingly arbitrary ban was swift from within and without the mountaineering world. Everest reporter Alan Arnette called the new rules “byzantine” and said they were “not grounded in merit or even common sense.” And the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Alaina B. Teplitz, wrote, “Ability not perceived ‘disability must guide rules on who can trek Mt. Everest.”
Nepal’s supreme court sided with the skeptics of the ban, and stayed it in early March. Boyu’s Everest dream was reborn.
And he wasted no time this season. Boyu and 13 other climbers from Imagine Trek and Expedition’s team among the first summiteers of the season—just one day after eight Sherpa finished fixing the normal route to the summit.
Despite losing his legs to Everest, Boyu never soured on Everest. In an interview with Time Magazine earlier in 2018, Boyu said, “I love the mountain. … I will fight for it my entire life.”