image image

Hong Kong youth

Twisted ankle, inner monologues and dead bodies: youngest Hongkonger to scale Mount Everest recalls his journey to the top

Benjamin Chan, 19, craves a bowl of barbecued pork with rice as he flies home victorious, but after that, he has his sights on the Explorers Grand Slam

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 10:29pm

Conquering the world’s highest peak was more of a test of willpower than physical strength, the youngest Hongkonger to scale Mount Everest said on Friday, recalling how he had considered giving up during his two-month expedition.

In an interview with the Post, Benjamin Chan Ka-hei, 19, said he twice thought about quitting – once when he twisted his ankle in the early stages of his climb, and another time closer to the summit when he endured a nine-hour stretch in which the same ankle felt like it was “completely on fire”.

“On this mountain, your mind becomes very fragile. Even the slightest comment could throw you off and make you question your reasons for doing this,” Chan said over the phone from Kathmandu, Nepal, after making it to the top on Monday morning.

“Before I got to the Everest base camp, I twisted my left ankle. I thought it was the end of the expedition,” he said.

“But I told myself: look, I can’t change the situation, but I can change my perspective and have a positive outlook.”

Miraculously, his ankle healed within a couple of days with the help of a doctor, but another wave of doubt hit him hard on his way to the 8,848 metre (29,029 feet) summit.

“On the day we were to reach the summit, we faced a steep ascent with a 70-degree angle. The entire way my ankle felt like it was on fire. I thought it was never going to end,” he said.

The young mountaineer said he was able to overcome the mental obstacles by maintaining an inner monologue and positive thoughts of his family and friends.

“I thought to myself – if I turn back now and go home, nothing would change, but if I do this, it’s something that I would remember for the rest of my life,” Chan said.

If I turn back now and go home, nothing would change
Benjamin Chan

Mount Everest, which straddles the border of Nepal and China, is a looming giant with precarious ridges and deep crevasses. Over the decades, it has claimed the lives of at least 280 climbers.

Chan made it to the peak on Monday at 6.25am and arrived back at the base camp on Wednesday.

Aside from maintaining a strong mind amid the challenges, he had to battle harsh weather conditions, shortness of breath, sleepless nights and the macabre sight of dead bodies along the way, while carrying an 18kg (40lbs) backpack with an oxygen tank, food and other equipment.

His trip cost about US$59,620 (HK$467,863), of which about a third is expected to be sponsored, with Hong Kong company Re:echo supplying Chan’s climbing gear.

Chan is still seeking sponsorship for the remaining costs of his expedition, and his next challenges.

Looking back, Chan said he was “happy and relieved”, although he was eyeing a bigger prize.

Chan’s Everest journey is part of a grander ambition: to become the youngest person in the world to climb the highest summits on all seven continents as well as to reach the North and South Poles, a feat known as the Explorers Grand Slam.

Teenager becomes youngest Hongkonger to conquer Mount Everest and now wants to complete the Explorers Grand Slam

The current record for the youngest trekker to achieve the grand slam is held by Marin Minamiya of Japan, who completed it when she was 20.

Chan hopes his own Everest feat, a project he had embarked on during his gap year, could inspire others “to do something crazy in their lives”.

“When I started this, honestly, I didn’t know if it was possible. But it was this uncertainty that gave me vigour to pursue it. It empowered me and gave me confidence that I can do anything if I set my mind to it,” he said.

With Everest out of the way, he has crossed three items off his grand slam bucket list, leaving Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, Denali in Alaska, Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and the North and South Poles.

For now though, as he savours his conquest on the ride home, Chan said he only yearned for some char siu faan or barbecued pork with rice.