The TATA Literature Festival hall reverberated with applause as a video on Mark Inglis, the first double amputee mountaineer to climb Mount Everest, was screened Friday. The 60-year-old New Zealander, who lost both his legs to frostbite more than 20 years ago, had achieved the feat in 2006.
In Mumbai to attend the 10th edition of the literature festival, Inglis said the tragedy occurred in 1982 when he and his partner Phillip Doole were stuck in a snow cave on Mt Cook — the highest mountain in that country — for 13 days due to a blizzard. “We were stuck inside the cave for 324 hours to be precise, and all we had to survive between us were five Shrewsbury biscuits,” Inglis said.
After they were rescued from the cave and flown off to a hospital, doctors realised that their condition was worse than what they had apprehended. “We knew for sure that we would lose toes, but we thought we’d be back climbing by Christmas! However, the frostbite was so severe that both our feet had to be amputated,” Inglis said.
The mountaineer-turned-motivational speaker said he had lost around 30 kg in the 13 days that he had spent in the cave.
While it took Inglis years to limp back to normalcy and acclimatise his body to the artificial limbs, a positive outlook through the journey, he said, had helped him greatly. “I realised that it was not what I thought, but how I thought, which mattered most. When I got a new pair of legs, artificial ones, I was thinking ahead of climbing once again. That was when it struck me that I never had to worry about getting frostbite during my future expeditions ever again!” Inglis said.
Also an athlete, Inglis took to cycling after recovery and went on to win silver in cycling for New Zealand at 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney. Two years later, in 2002, he successfully climbed Mt Cook.
Speaking about his Mt Everest expedition, Inglis said, “When I go to the Everest base camp, it is like going home. It all comes so naturally to me. It is the toughest climb and as a mountaineer, climbing it is validation for what I do.”
The journey climbing up Mt Everest, however, was not the hardest bit. “I managed to climb Mt Everest on May 15, 2006, but it was the journey down that was more challenging for me as climbing down steep descents were harder with artificial limbs than climbing up,” he added.
Inglis became the first-ever double amputee to climb to the roof of the world, a feat achieved only once more by Chinese mountaineer Xia Boyu in 2018, who took 5 attempts to manage the climb.
Today, Inglis has taken to newer ventures, such as wine-making and motivational speaking. A book on his expeditions ‘No Legs on Everest’ was released recently. The New Zealander has also founded a charitable trust, ‘Limbs 4 All’, which helps make artificial limbs for amputees.