Kim Hong-bin: Without fingers on 13 eight-thousanders

Kim Hong-bin

He’s almost at the final goal of his dreams. Last Sunday, the South Korean Kim Hong-bin reached with his compatriots Cho Cheol-hee and Cheong Ha-young, the Nepalese Pechhumbe Sherpa and the Pakistani Muhammad Hussain the 8080-meter-high summit of Gasherbrum I in the Karakoram. It was Kim’s 13th eight-thousander success. To complete his collection, the 54-year-old still has to scale  Broad Peak. In this case, Kim would be the first disabled mountaineer to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders. Since 1991 he has been climbing without all ten fingers.

Handicap overcome by climbing

All fingers lost

It happened on the 6,190-meter-high Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain of North America: Hong-bin suffered such severe frostbite that all fingers had to be amputated. This handicap didn’t slow down Kim’s thirst for action, quite the opposite. “If the accident at Denali hadn’t happened, I would have remained an ordinary climber,” Hong-bin once said. “The hardship made me challenge the seemingly impossible. I overcame the handicap a mountain gave me by climbing mountains.”

Also on the top of the Seven Summits

On the summit of K2 in 2012

The “man without fingers” achieved his first summit successes on eight-thousanders in 2006, when he scaled Gasherbrum II and Shishapangma. In 2007, Kim stood on the “roof of the world”, the summit of Mount Everest, in 2008 on the top of Makalu. Less than a year later, at the beginning of 2009, he completed his collection of the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains of all continents, with scaling Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

And he continued to climb eight-thousanders: Dhaulagiri (in 2009), Cho Oyu (in 2011), K2 (in 2012), Kangchenjunga (in 2013), Manaslu (in 2014), Lhotse and Nanga Parbat (both in 2017), Annapurna (in 2018) – and now Gasherbrum I.

Gold medal as an alpine skier

Korean champion

The 1.76 meter tall South Korean, who lives in the city of Gwanju in the south of the country, is not only a high-altitude climber but also a Paralympic athlete. In 2002, he competed for South Korea at the Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City and finished ninth in both Slalom and Super G. Last February, he won gold at the Korean Alpine Ski Championships for disabled athletes. Kim also competed successfully as a cyclist, inline skater and sprinter in athletics.

But the 54-year-old lives his dreams mainly in the mountains. “I put all of my life in the mountains,” said Kim Hong-bin recently in an interview: “Dreams are more than lives. Life can be destitute, but dreams can never be abandoned.”

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