What are your fall semester goals? Attaining a good grade point average? Starting that diet that you delayed during summer vacation? Do you strive to do your best when you set goals? One person risks his life challenging his own goals. Despite the death of 10 colleagues, a 180-degree angle broken leg, and many hardships adversities that are unimaginable, he finally accomplished his goals. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met Um Hong-gil (UM), the first person to climb the 16 highest points on Earth and to have travelled 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters above sea level within 12 years.
SMT You have extraordinary affection for the mountains. You go to the mountains every summer season. What motivated you to become a climber?
UM My childhood background. I was born in Gyeongnam, Goseong-gun and we lived on a hillside. I grew up enjoying nature because of my parent's wishes. It took me 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to school. Before high school, I had never been to a school with heating, so we had to burn wood. In those days, I blamed my mountain life because it was too hard physically. However, I knew my parent's intent. They wanted me to grow up strong both physically and mentally. I am thankful for growing up in the mountain. Mountain life is now so familiar and a part of my life since when I was young.
SMT What is the most memorable climbing experience among your innumerable climbing excursions?
UM My most memorable climb was climbing Annapurna in the Himalayas. I tried it five times before finally succeeding. During my fourth attempt, I lost three colleagues that were like brothers. It brought me great pain, but I never gave up and gave it one more attempt. On my fifth attempt, a sherpa* fell suddenly and while I was rescuing him, I got injury. The wound was on my left foot towards the back of my foot and cause by rope tension. I had to crawl 3,000m for 3 days and 2 nights dangling my ankle. The doctor said I should never climb again, but after undergoing rehabilitation treatment for a year, I finally succeeded in conquering Annapurna. Enduring so many hardships made it more meaningful for me.
SMT Don't you ever want to give up climbing?
UM Every moment I climb. Each climb, I risk my life. I suffer physically and mentally. I sometimes regret my decision to climb, but the pain doesn’t last. I know success with come after enduring these difficulties. I have set for myself a goal of climbing over 8,000 meters. The goal encourages me and I have the will to succeed.
SMT You founded UM HONG GIL Human Foundation in 2008. You are also involved with an education and health support program called Human Project. What caused you to establish the project?
UM After climbing 8,000 meters, I felt the limitation of a human. 7,000 meters is possible if one tries hard, but an 8,000 meters climb requires much more. An 8,000 meters climb requires something deep within oneself. I prayed to God to allow me to return home safely after success, and I vowed to repay the help. Finally, I succeeded in my challenge even though I lost a toe and got injured. I want to return the favor, so I started the project.
SMT What are the goals of that project?
UM The purpose of the project is to focus on education and health support in Nepal and other developing countries. When I climbed, I saw people living on the land and in very poor conditions. Temporary help did not result in any solution. Those people need the ability to change themselves, so I thought the answer was with education. Since then, I have been active in building schools for them since 2010. My goal is to erect 16 elementary schools and at present the 8th Human School is being constructed.
SMT You have experiences many frustrations and failures. Do you have any words of advice for students experiencing many difficulties?
UM Set your exact goal and be confident! Believe in yourself. Nothing is easily gained. I also experienced many failures during climbing, but after those failures, I succeeded. There is no benefit to complain about lives difficulties because no one but yourself can solve them. Sometimes you will fail in your course or challenge, but it will not last forever. If you fail, try once more and success will come to you. I finally succeeded after five attempts. 自勝最强 is my favorite Chinese saying. It can be translated as the strongest person is the one who wins against him/herself. Overcome your difficulties and surpass the limits of your abilities.
*A person of Mongolian origin living on the southern slopes of the Himalayas in Nepal, noted as mountaineers.
• 2013 Korean Creative Executive Prize Recipient
• 2012 One of 50 people to receive “Great Honor to Korean Alpine Federation”
• 2009 Korean National Commission for UNESCO's Time Person of the Year
• 2001 Republic of Korea Climbing Prize Recipient
• 2008.05~ UM HOMG GIL Human Foundation's Executive Director