Faith can move mountains. That's the belief of Li Fuqing, a 44-year-old Chinese professional mountaineer who originally trained as a race walker but managed to scale Mount Qomolangma three times.
In 2020, which marks the 60th anniversary of humans reaching the summit of Mt. Qomolangma via the north ridge, China deployed a survey team of 53 climbers to remeasure the height of the world's tallest peak. Li easily made the team and was chosen as one of the eight members to reach the summit.
But Li felt extra pressure as he was also responsible for coaching the whole team which contained some non-professional climbers. "We had a few members with no experience of high altitude mountaineering. But they used to work in the wild, and they quickly got used to the altitude."
On April 10, the team reached base camp before making the final push for the summit. But bad weather twice delayed their plans, and the climbers only had a short window of opportunity to make the risky ascent during the main spring climbing season.
On May 27, on their third attempt, Li and his teammates successfully scaled the summit and pinpointed the height of the world's highest peak.
"If we had lost the window of opportunity, the mission would have failed. But when we made it, we were simply relieved more so than being just excited," he said.
Li's career as an mountaineer could be traced back to his race walking training. Born in a Tu ethnic county of northwest China's Qinghai province, he trained to be a race walker in the 1990s in a local school.
The school is located in Duoba National Highland Sports Training Base, a cradle of Chinese sporting champions, where famous Tibetan race walker and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Qieyang Shenjie once trained.
"Years of altitude training gave me the stamina needed. Born and raised in the highlands, I have no fear of the altitude," Li recalled.
In 2002, a chance came out of the blue that allowed Li to join a mission to scale the peak of 6,178-meter Mount Yuzhu in the Kunlun range in Qinghai. Li's direction then shifted to alpinism after joining the Chinese mountaineering team a few months later.
Years of expeditions on the windswept highlands made him one of the best on the team. Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he joined the team carrying the Olympic torch to the summit of Mt. Qomolangma. Now Li is the coach of China's national mountaineering team.
In the expedition to Mount Yuzhu 18 years ago, Li played the role as logistical support member and the idea of becoming a real mountaineer started to grow from then on.
From being a mountaineering rookie to national team coach, Li never takes anything for granted.
"Conquering Mt. Qomolangma is a dream for many. I was lucky enough to see the grandness and the inclusiveness of the summit. But every time I scaled the mountain, I had more respect for the majesty in front of me," he said.
As his sunken eyes show the insight after years of braving wind and ice, Li also takes on a more philosophical approach towards mountaineering and nature. "No matter how high we stand, we can never conquer nature. There is no conflict between standing high and being in awe of nature."
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)
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