Veteran Makes History As First Double Above-Knee Amputee To Summit Mount Everest
Hari Budha Magar, a Nepal-born veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan, became the first double above-the-knee amputee to summit Mount Everest.
The historic feat Friday came 13 years to the day since he stepped on an improvised explosive device as a Gurkha soldier.
Magar had spent 18 days at base camp before scaling the mountain, waiting for the weather to improve — and saw two bodies being carried down. More than 310 people have died climbing Everest since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reached its peak in 1953.
“All of my jackets were completely freezing,” he told the PA news agency per The Guardian. “It was all frozen. Even our warm water, we put hot water in the Thermos, and that was also frozen and we were not able to drink. When I came down we ran out of oxygen.”
While the former soldier eventually forged ahead, he could only relish in his victory for a few minutes: His oxygen mask and sunglasses were entirely frozen over. For Magar, who now lives in Canterbury, England, the mission had seemed utterly impossible in his youth.
“I grew up in Nepal, up to age of 19, and I saw how the disabled people were treated in those remote villages,” said Magar. “Many people still think that disability is a sin of previous life and you are the burden of the earth. I believed this myself because that is what I saw.”
“That is how I grew up,” he continued.
Magar stepped on an IED in 2010 while serving the Ghurka regiment in the British army.
Magar said his combat injuries made him feel like “life was finished,” per the BBC, and left him depressed. He began “drinking too much,” per The Guardian, to manage his pain and attempted suicide “a couple of times.”
Though he was “thinking about Everest all the time” while skiing through mountain ranges around the world as a Gurkha regiment soldier, Magar’s injuries — and a law preventing climbers with certain disabilities from scaling the mountain — kept him from that dream.
The Nepalese government banned double amputees and blind people in 2017 from climbing Everest in an attempt to reduce overcrowding, per The Washington Post. Human traffic on the mountain has reportedly often been so busy that people have died from sheer exposure.
Magar had planned his climb for years when the ban took hold. He successfully lobbied against it with disability advocates, leading Nepal’s Supreme Court to overturn the decision in 2018 — only for the coronavirus pandemic to impact expeditions.
Nepal has thus issued a record 463 permits this year, which don’t account for the local sherpas typically hired to guide climbers — meaning around 900 people will attempt to summit Everest in 2023. Four people have already died in the last five months, per Insider.
Magar was greeted like a hero Tuesday at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Magar, who said tears of joy froze over his cheek when he reached the top, told his team via satellite phone that the climb was “harder than I could have ever imagined.” His next trip is to Afghanistan, as he now considers his 2010 injuries a blessing, to say “thank you.”
“My big goals were simply to change perceptions on disability and to inspire other people to climb their own mountains,” said Magar, per the BBC. “No matter how big your dreams, no matter how challenging your disability, with the right mindset, anything is possible.”