On Apr. 2, the Chinese climber Xia Boyu stood at the entrance of a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu, awaiting his turn for a blessing. For the throngs of cross-legged pilgrims thumbing prayer beads on the temple porch, the day was the last day of an annual purification ritual. For the tourists in khakis, the chanting monks and vividly colored silks presented a stunning photo opportunity. And for dozens of Sherpas and their clients, like Xia, who were about to embark on the annual Everest climbing season, it was a chance to pray that they would make it back from the mountain alive.
Xia needed every prayer he could get. Six weeks after the blessing — at 8.26 a.m. local time on May 14 — he finally made it to the top of the world’s highest peak. He was 69, had failed to summit on four previous occasions, and was a double amputee, missing both his lower legs, which were amputated after suffering frostbite in a failed Everest expedition when he was just 25. He also used prosthetic limbs that one expert described as “exactly what does not belong on Everest” because they were modular and liable to freeze up (ever tried to thread a screw at 26,000 feet?).
But his epic triumph has called attention to a small subset of the tight-knit climbing fraternity: disabled climbers. The Nepalese government has been trying to ban disabled climbers from the slopes of Sagarmatha (“Mother Goddess of the Earth”), as Everest is known locally.
Xia is not the first double amputee to conquer Everest — New Zealander Mark Inglis claimed that title in 2006. Santiago Quintero, a climber from Ecuador who is missing parts of both his feet and listed as a double amputee in the Himalayan Database, summited from the Nepal side in 2013. But Xia’s triumph has exacerbated an ethical debate that has been raging for several months: Who belongs on the roof of the world? Many say Xia should not have been allowed to make the attempt in the first place. His critics argue that, in his condition, he posed unacceptable risks not only to himself but to his support team of 12 Sherpas, without which he wouldn’t have stood a chance. (Inglis had to be carried down from the summit on the back of a Sherpa, after developing frostbite.)
Last December, authorities attempted to bar climbers who are disabled, blind, below the age of 16, or intending to climb solo, from undertaking these dangerous expeditions. An outcry ensued, and a group of disabled climbers launched a legal action, citing a violation of the United Nations’ convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which protects the disabled from discrimination before the law. The nation’s highest court agreed to put the ban under review — a hiatus that Xia took advantage of to make his attempt at the summit that had eluded him so many times in the past.
Prakash Mathema—AFP/Getty ImagesTrekkers and porters gather at Everest Base Camp on April 25, …read more
Source:: Time – World