Meet The Mountaineer Aiming To Be The First Double Amputee To Summit Everest

Hari Budha Magar on the challenges of climbing with two prosthetic legs, challenging a mountain ban, and how he plans to celebrate conquering the world’s highest peak

I was born in a cow shed in a remote village in western Nepal about 2,700m above sea level. I've always been fascinated by Mount Everest. As a child, you're told it's the tallest peak in Nepal, and the world. We Nepalese are very proud of it.

I grew up during the Nepalese Civil War, in which more than 17,000 people were killed. I was lucky to join the Royal Gurkha Rifles and served for 15 years. In the year I joined, there were more than 12,000 applicants, but only 204 were successful. In 2010, I lost both my legs above the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device during a tour of Afghanistan. The journey from when I lost my legs to now has been hard, with lots of unknowns.

I didn't know much about having a disability before it happened. In Nepal, disabled people are often seen as a burden, and your disability as a reflection of sins in a previous life. So, that's what I felt when it happened to me. I thought my life was finished.

Then, slowly, I started learning how to use my prosthetics and how to use a wheelchair. It took over 12 months, but I started testing what I could do physically, trying different sports and activities. My confidence came back, slowly, step by step, and I realised that anything is possible - you just have to take a different approach. I was the first disabled person to ski in Nepal. I won a gold medal in artillery at the Endeavor Games, and a bronze for table tennis. Then, I did a few skydives. I climbed Ben Nevis, Kilimanjaro and Mont Blanc with prosthetic legs, and I was the first double above-knee amputee to summit a mountain over 6,000m. I became the first amputee to kayak around the Isle of Wight, and then I kayaked 748km along Alaska's Yukon River. Sure, I'd need a little bit of help taking my kayak to the river bank, but once I was in, I was off. And I'm always the best.

Himalayas, Nepal
Hari Budha Magar

Hari Budha Magar, set to be the first above-knee double amputee to scale Everest.

In 2018, the Nepalese government banned double amputees from climbing in the country, and I joined forces with other climbers and disability organisations to try and overturn the ban. They should be supporting us, not banning us. We won, and last spring, I was the first amputee to walk all the way to the Everest base camp. Finding the right prosthetic legs for climbing on ice and snow was a challenge. My limb centre was not able to provide any, but luckily, I had a friend in the US who sent me some modified crampons, which we've been able to develop further. They still need work and they're not commercially viable, but I can walk on them, and climb a mountain with them. Right now, we're adding a heating circuit. I wear silicone liners, like socks, under the legs. It's important to control the temperature to make sure I don't lose any more limbs.

About 15 per cent of the world's population is disabled. I never knew that I would get injured, or become disabled, but it happens every day. Our disability might be our weakness, but it doesn't mean we can't do anything.

We have to approach the climb differently to a typical Everest expedition. There will be between 15 and 18 people in my team. Of those, about eight Sherpas and myself and my climbing leader will be climbing beyond the base camp. It'll be slightly different to a typical expedition. I'm three times slower and I burn three times more energy than a typical mountain climber, but I'm good, and possibly even better than most people at going up ladders and hauling up faces. There are typically four camps on Everest during an expedition, but we'll be looking to make five or six.

Mount Everest, Himalayas
Hari Budha Magar

Hari Budha Magar reached Everest's base camp last year.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary required hundreds of porters on the first expedition. There were no aluminium ladders at the time, and they made about 10 camps. So, in comparison, our expedition is really, really small. But it's still three or four times bigger than a normal climb.

My main aim is to increase awareness of disability and change people's perceptions. I know how disabled people are treated around the world and it needs to change. This is going to be a piece of history and a great achievement for human endeavour, but I also want to inspire people to climb their own mountains. I grew up looking at the mountain, and dreaming of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's expedition. For me, it's about completing those dreams.

When I get to the summit, I'll just think "we did it". Maybe I'll give a hug to everyone, and if visibility is good, take a look around. And then I'll want to get down as fast as possible.

The Lowdown

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