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A man to match my mountains

Time: 2/13/2011

Inglis descends the mountain Qomolangma Feng on May 15, 2006, after reaching the summit thus becomes the first double-amputee to reach the world's highest peak.

 

When he was just 22, New Zealander Mark Inglis was a professional mountaineer and head of a search and rescue team that saved lives. He knew about close calls. He had many mountains yet to climb.

But in November 1982, Inglis and another climber were hit by a blizzard on Mt Cook (Aoraki), New Zealand's tallest peak, and trapped in an ice cave near the summit for 14 days. Both suffered serious frostbite. Inglis' legs were amputated below the knee.

It seemed there would be no more mountains to climb.

But there were.

All mountaineers push limits, but Inglis has even more limits to push.

He got himself a pair of prosthetic legs, determined to walk again and then to climb again. He learned to walk as his eldest daughter was taking her first steps, and he eventually got high-tech, carbon-fiber prosthetics for sports and climbing.

For the next 20 years he took different paths. At the age of 25 he got a degree in human biochemistry, went on to do research, develop high-performance sports foods, make wine, and become a motivational speaker and author.

He also took silver in cycling in a Paralympic Games event in Sydney in 2000.

Inglis established Limbs4All foundation and works with people who have lost limbs around the world, including Sherpas in the Himalayas and Cambodians in one of the world's most heavily mined countries.

He has visited China for climbing and trekking and hopes to lead adventure tours this or next year to the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Next month he will lead a trek to Nepal's Gokyo Ri Lakes region for a charity trip (benefits Limbs4All) that he says will be a journey of self-discovery and motivation. Later there's a trek to Mera Peak (6,800 meters).

Conquer Mt Cook

Inglis returned to the mountain where he lost his legs.

On January 7, 2002, he reached the summit of Mt Cook, after a previous attempt was thwarted by problems with his leg stumps. The successful assault was documented by the film "No Mean Feat."

On May 15, 2006, when he was 47, Inglis conquered Mt Everest, becoming the first double-amputee to reach the world's highest peak. It's every climber's dream, but he paid a physical price: he lost five fingers to frostbite, a small price compared with the loss of two legs.

He also broke a carbon-fiber prosthetic leg in half, repaired it with duct tape and continued until a spare was sent up from base camp.

But after the glory, the climb by 19 mountaineers was dogged by controversy. On the ascent at around 8,500 meters, the group encountered but passed a seriously distressed British climber, David Sharp; on the way back down they again saw him near death and despite assistance on site, he perished.

There was an uproar in the mountaineering community and a debate over ethics, ambition and compassion - whether the climb should have been abandoned to (possibly) save a man's life.

Inglis defended the climbers' decision to push ahead and not abandon the assault, but he said the call to continue the climb was made by the leader at base camp. Renowned mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary weighed in, saying it was more important to try to save a life than conquer a mountain.

That was five years ago.

"Standing on the summit of Mt Everest has always been a boyhood dream," Inglis has said, "a dream that I thought I had lost in 1982 when I was a search and rescue mountaineer in New Zealand."

Looking back

As he reflects on the loss of his legs many years ago - a loss that was not disastrous but transformative, he said, "It was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me because I had to be rescued by my own search and rescue team."

For Inglis, no mountain is too high and both climbing and living are treks to self-improvement. His highest peak is Mt Life.

He hasn't lost his sense of humor.

"What's the most dangerous thing about climbing?" Inglis once asked a fellow climber before setting out. "Frostbite. I ought to know," he said, raising his hands - only one of them has five fingers - and pounding his prosthetic limbs. "I have really experienced it."

Everyone turned somber, Inglis told a Chinese magazine in an interview.

Inglis pointed to his fingerless hand. "Does anybody know the biggest function of the little finger?

"To pick one's nose," he joked. "And I can't give anyone the middle finger, so it's okay those fingers are gone."

Everybody smiles.

"Life for me is all about participation," he said. "I am accompanied through all of this by my wife Anne, and our three children Amanda, Jeremy and Lucy. I've always felt it's no use being just a voyeur in life, as we are all here to make a difference.

"Life-long learning is what I am about. The concept of challenge and personal excellence is integral to my life. I have turned what many people consider stumbling blocks to the stepping stones of life."

In November last year, he climbed Gokyo Ri (5,550 meters) in Nepal on a 17-day expedition. This year he heads to Nepal.

Next year Inglis hopes to take adventure groups to Beijing and then on by train to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, then to the Mt Everest (Mt Qomolangma) Base Camp, and finally down the Nylam Gorge and into Kathmandu, Nepal.

He is impressed by China's vast scale, potential and people striving to make the most of it.

People's openness also touched him. In the end, he said, he's more comfortable in mountain villages, but he also loves the energy and excitement of big cities.

"I love to share my experiences, my friends and colleagues in China and Nepal with others so they see the real, exciting China, the one not seen from a bus window!"

Never ask why

"I never think why I still love to climb," he said. "What I always keep in mind is how I can reach the peak."

Not being good enough, and finding out too late about bad decisions scare him the most. Making bad decisions is the main cause of mountaineers' deaths, he said.

In an interview with Shanghai Daily, Inglis said his only fear is about making the wrong decision.

"Mountaineering is all about decision making," he said. "When you do not have information, or you have the wrong information that means you cannot make the right decisions - then you need to be scared."

Over the years Inglis has used nearly 40 prosthetic limbs to climb mountain after mountain.

The enormous cost of major climbing expeditions is largely paid by sponsorship and loans, said Inglis, adding that he has never profited from his climbs and has donated all money to Limbs4All.

The Everest assault cost more than US$70,000 and he has not recovered any of the cost.

He finances his family, his adventures and charity by motivational speaking around the world, urging people to make the most of their potential.

"I love cooking (all wine makers do)," he said. "When I am not climbing, mountain biking, skiing, seeing new places, or meeting new people," said Inglis, now 51.

"The thing I don't do so well is relax."

(Wang Zhiyu also contributes to this story)

Source from Tibet.cn--Shanghai Daily

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