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January 20, 2019

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Chinese mom climbs from depths of despair

STANDING on the peak of Mount Qomolangma, Luo Jing looked down on the world from the highest point on Earth. She saw the rolling mountains, covered by pure snow: Everything was at her feet. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, just as she did 10 years ago, when she was at the rock bottom of her life, gazing at the world downward from the top floor of her apartment, ready to extricate herself from all the suffering.

Mount Qomolangma was the ninth eight-thousander Luo had ascended since her first successful attempt at the Manaslu in 2011.

On September 29, 2018, she was making headlines as the first Chinese woman to conquer all 14 eight-thousanders when she came back from Shishapangma, the last on her list, until she disqualified herself four days later.

“The international mountaineering team (behind us) have descended and confirmed (that I have ascended the wrong peak),” Luo announced on her Weibo, denying the feat she was thought to have accomplished in her own name.

Every one of her experienced team members claimed the ascent was successful. She was already hailed as a hero by media and mountaineering lovers at home. She could have just stayed silent and take all the credit, putting a perfect end to her mountaineering dream.

At last, she chose honesty over honor. According to Luo, the peak they successfully ascended was the Central-Peak of Shishapangma, the second top at 8,008 meters, whereas the Main-Peak stands about some 300 meters away at 8,027 meters.

She had careful discussions with other experts, comparing photos and videos from her attempt and those of confirmed ascents, before she came to this conclusion.

Although a local authority insisted where they had reached was the highest point of the mountain, she believed that photos and videos don’t lie.

In 2005, Luo gave birth to her son Nuo Nuo, whose name and that of his father were frequently mentioned in her conversations with friends about her busy but sweet everyday life.

But only one year later, the happy mother and wife found herself heavily indebted with over 2 million yuan (US$294,000) borrowed by her husband, who disappeared all of a sudden. She decided to repay the debts. She sold her house, commuted nearly three hours every day for work. She ran a small business all by herself to make more money and saved every penny possible at the same time. In 2007, the 32-year-old shook off all the debts.

A former white-collar worker in an IT company, Luo is also a fond lover of outdoor sports. Camping and hiking were part of her life, and mountaineering was what she had long dreamt of.

A quick learner and a determined climber, Luo broke her own record for the highest mountain ascended from 5,000-meter-plus to 7,000-meter-plus in merely a year and a half.

“Climbing makes you look upwards. I was first attracted by the sport because it makes me feel not that hopeless,” Luo said.

But the higher she climbed, the more ambitious she became.

However, climbing the eight-thousanders is often seen as a luxury for the rich, with a single attempt costing at least 200,000 yuan (US$29,571). To realize her dream, Luo could only rely on the strict budgeting with the money she saved from selling her house and offset with mortgages.

When she first got started, what kept her warm was only a pair of second-hand mountaineering pants worth 200 yuan. Expenses were a headache for her, especially after she quit her job in 2010, and sometimes what filled her mind when she descended was how to repay the debts she owed to the climbing companies.

That explains why Luo, unlike other mountaineers, put the most difficult mountains, K2 (8,611 meters) and Annapurna (8,091 meters), on her agenda — she was not sure when financial difficulties might cost her this dream.

But money was not the biggest problem. The prospect of death raised a constant spectre.

On Dhaulagiri, Luo encountered a Green Boots (an unidentified climber’s corpse) for the first time. Its skin had become translucent after resting in eternal peace for maybe decades accompanied by snow and wind. At that moment, Luo was overwhelmed by the unprecedented awe for the mountains, for nature and her predecessors.

Death came closer when Rao Jianfeng, her mentor in mountaineering that guided her to ascend her second eight-thousander Makalu (8,485 meters), was killed in a shooting at the camp of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. Rao was to climb Gasherbrum I and II with her a month later. However, on a crowded subway, she received the heart-breaking news which left her all alone in her endeavors.

She hesitated when she considered if she could continue her journey. Most of her friends suggested that she cancel the trip, but it was an e-mail from a Spanish mountaineer that helped her make up her mind.

It read: “Don’t let your fears control you.”

She clicked on the “confirm” button.

She was not alone when she stood on the peaks of the Gasherbrum: A photo of Rao kept her accompany.

Her first close contact with death was in 2013 on Kanchenjunga, where Luo lost a third of her 15-man team when they descended.

Three mountaineers and two Sherpas — elite mountaineers and guides in their local area — now rest in the pure white snow, with the picture they took on the peak capturing their last smile. And she was just a few seconds away from writing a last chapter of her life on Broad Peak in 2015 when an avalanche caught her team off-guard.

The tiny Chinese woman and her build-up teammates were all powerless against the rage of mother nature. When Luo regained consciousness, she found herself buried in heavy snow. Her body was almost twisted into a V-shape backward, and the snow on her chest was about to smother her.

That was when four Sherpas found her and immediately dug her out, pulling her back from the brink of death. Three days later, she was making another attempt to the top of the Broad Peak, battling against bruises and pains.

Although she did not make it that time, her resilience and perseverance was enough to impress an overseas mountaineer that climbed with her.

After she descended, Zhang Yue, her alumni who volunteered to be her contact person, was shocked by how badly she was injured as shown in the photos she took. It was then when Zhang got to understand why this gentle-looking lady was able to top those eight-thousanders.

The avalanche completely awoke her confidence in mountaineering. She survived the incident, and now knows that her life is in her own hands.

She is no longer a follower.

She formed a small chat group with her best friends where she could receive updated weather forecasts and gather the wits and expertise in complementary for her increasing experience. Unlike many people that fancy an experience, she wants “challenges and growth.”

“People have different understandings of amateur mountaineering. If you simply want to try it for one time, there’s no problem in relying on assistance from others, but if you truly love the sport, there will always be a voice inside your mind telling you to go for more,” she explained. Luo holds the belief that her pursuit of dreams will encourage Nuo Nuo to do the same. Therefore, she never stops in her steps but goes forward.

Despite the two failed attempts this year, Luo is still not ready to give up. She has made several recent paragliding attempts. She is now a certificated paraglider. “Always reach towards the light and the sky spiritually. Keep growing.”


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