The ridge between triumph and tragedy can be very narrow on eight-thousanders. First, the headline went around the world that the South Korean Kim Hong-bin had summited the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakorum and had thus become the first disabled climber in the world to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders – with bottled oxygen. Even South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim via Twitter for completing the collection of the eight-thousanders: “You gave more pride and hope to the people who are tired of the corona virus.”
A few hours later, news broke that the 56-year-old was missing. Russian climbers who were also on the mountain eventually reported that Kim had fallen into a 15-meter-deep crevasse far up the mountain while descending and had died. Other reports on social media had previously said Hong-bin had fallen to his death towards the Chinese side of Broad Peak.
Handicap overcome by climbing
The climber from South Korea had been missing all ten fingers since 1991. 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
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 Gasherbrum I (in 2019). Only Broad Peak was missing.
Gold medal as an alpine skier
The 1.76 meter tall South Korean, who lived in the city of Gwanju in the south of the country, was 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. In February 2019, 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 Hong-bin lived his dreams mainly in the mountains. “I put all of my life in the mountains,” said Kim Hong-bin once in an interview: “Dreams are more than lives. Life can be destitute, but dreams can never be abandoned.” Hong-bin survived the fulfillment of his great dream of having stood on all 14 eight-thousanders by only a few hours.