Disabled climber pulls off 7-continent sweep

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Disabled climber pulls off 7-continent sweep


Kim Hong-bin

A man without fingers has conquered the highest peaks on all seven continents.

Kim Hong-bin, a 44-year-old Korean mountaineer, became the first handicapped person in the world to do so after climbing Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica at 4,897 meters (16,066 feet), on Jan. 2 (local time), his climbing guide was quoted as saying by Kim’s acquaintances yesterday.

“Kim’s achievement is one of the greatest human success stories, made by a man with an iron will,” said Yun Jang-hyun, Korea YMCA’s chief director and an adviser to the expeditionary team.

Kim began climbing with the Songwon College alpine club in Gwangju. He bested Mount Everest in 1989 and Mount Nanga Parbat in 1990. However, during a 1991 attempt on Mount McKinley, he fell asleep from fatigue and was rescued 16 hours later. Frostbite claimed all of his fingers. The backs of both hands were also ruined, and Kim ended up with stumps.

“I returned to Korea after three months of treatment at a hospital in Alaska, but it was impossible to live my everyday life without help from others. I couldn’t even eat by myself. I was tempted to take my own life several times,” Kim said in an earlier interview.

However, with encouragement from his colleagues, Kim got on his feet again and began training more rigorously than ever.

“Since I cannot take advantage of climbing equipment such as ropes, sticks and an ice axe, I have to build up my physical strength.”

Kim made a successful comeback as a mountaineer on Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe (5,642 meters), in July 1997. Two months later, he brought Mount McKinley to its knees.

“I declared that I would conquer the highest peaks on all seven continents. People cheered me in my presence, but I know most were skeptical about my plan,” Kim said.

Due to his handicap, Kim always needs help from fellow climbers or accompanying porters for very basic things like unzipping his pants to relieve himself, putting on socks and lacing his hiking boots.

Despite the challenges, however, it took him 11 years to summit the highest mountains on all seven continents, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa (5,895 meters), Mount Aconcagua in South America (6,959 meters), Mount McKinley in North America (6,194 meters), Mount Kosciuzsko in Oceania (2,228 meters) and Mount Everest in Asia (8,848 meters).

“If the accident at Mount McKinley hadn’t happened, I would have remained an ordinary climber. The hardship made me challenge the seemingly impossible. I overcame the handicap a mountain gave me by climbing mountains.”

Kim now has a new goal: conquering the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks. He has already accomplished four.

“Even if I meet difficulties in the course of advancing on my new goal, I will never give up.”

By Lee Hae-suck, Chun Chang-hwan JoongAng Ilbo [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]

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