A Korean mountaineer, Kim Hong-bin scaled the summit of the Himalayas' Broad Peak mountain on July 18, completing his long-awaited dream to scale all 14 mountains with peaks over 8,000 meters.
It is a crowning achievement. Only 43 climbers have been blessed to possess this daunting record. Kim is a fingerless climber. All his fingers had to be amputated due to frostbite when he suffered a tragic climbing accident in 1991. After the amputation of all his fingers, he went through a dark tunnel of despair. He found himself unable to make a living. Later, he experienced an epiphany. Through desperate efforts, he came to climb high mountains one by one.
In order to conquer mountains, he invented climbing tools to fit in his fingerless hands. Through these unrelenting and creative efforts, he fulfilled his goal of climbing all the highest peaks on all seven continents from 1997 through 2009. His challenge did not stop there. He had a strong desire to become a beacon of hope by demonstrating his resolve to reach all 14 eight-thousanders.
He initially dreamt of this at a time when he attempted to scale the peak of Nanga Parbat in 1990. His dream could have died in 1991 following his tragic climbing accident. Despite his seemingly insurmountable ordeal, he started a three-decade-long journey to fulfill it. He risked his life numerous times. Although he faced dangers coupled with inclement weather, he was not intimidated or defeated by them. Instead, he felt humbled in front of the sleeping giants. As time passed by, his strong desire to scale 14 mountain peaks over 8,000 meters turned into an unwavering goal. As part of his training to develop strength, he fully partook in other sports. He participated in many international competitions. He took part in the 2002 Paralympics as a member of the Korean national team. He won prizes at the cycling championships for people with disabilities several times.
Kim used to emphasize that with only 1% possibility of success, he would willingly make 1,000 attempts. His steadfastness, strength, skillful adaptation to decreased oxygen levels and spirit led him to scale notorious mountain peaks like the K2 in 2012 and the Nanga Parbat in 2017, just to name a few.
He scaled all 13 8,000-meter-peak mountains and only Broad Peak remained. Although his story is inspirational, it took a turn for the worst. On July 19, Kim went missing while descending after he topped the summit of Broad Peak the previous day. Search operations came to a halt at the request of his wife about one week after he was lost. According to Kim’s wife, he wished to avoid search efforts if he went missing. Now, Kim rests in peace in an unknown place in the Himalayan mountains. Kim also shared with me his last wishes. He once told me he would like to rest in peace in the mountain without being moved. He was my bona fide friend since the day we met in Pakistan in 2016. I pay homage to my friend for his heroic and great life.
While I was pondering about his life, I came across one CHamoru figure that makes me feel like he is the mirror image of Kim. That figure is Archbishop Felixberto C. Flores. I wish to share a narrative, as shared by a Korean, of Flores. Flores was the first CHamoru bishop and the first CHamoru archbishop.
Flores had a long-cherished desire for Father San Vitores to be beatified. A Spaniard, San Vitores evangelized in the Marianas region between 1668 and 1672 and was martyred in 1672. There were fruitless efforts for his beatification in the Philippines and Spain more than 300 years ago. Through Flores and several other partners’ desperate efforts, all the requirements were met for San Vitores to be beatified. However, the unknown date of the beatification ceremony posed a problem. Flores was ill, and despite his health condition, he wanted to see the beatification ceremony in his lifetime. Consequently, he decided to appeal to Pope John Paul II directly at a time when the pope visited Korea on the occasion of the ceremony for the 103 martyrs in May 1984 that marked the 200th year of the arrival of Catholic Church in Korea. Flores met Korean bishop Kyung Joseph who was in charge of the pope’s itinerary in Korea but his request for a meeting with the pope was declined. One nun, Shin Nicola, who was serving as secretary to Joseph at the time gave her earnest efforts to help. Flores was able to join a dinner in honor of the pope in Seoul. Flores was overjoyed. He received a positive response from the pope. Sadly, Flores suffered a medical crisis the following day.
Fortunately, Flores recovered and returned to Guam. The following year, Flores was honored to attend the beatification for Father San Vitores in Rome on Oct. 6, 1985.
After the beatification, Flores needed surgery. Before the surgery, he is said to have told his family and friends “goodbye and thank you for everything.” He breathed his last breath despite successful heart surgery on Oct. 25, 1985. He now rests in peace in the sanctuary of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral- Basilica.
Kim and Flores both lost their lives after the accomplishment of their dreams. Their spirits, the essence of who they are, live on forever. Flores' statue stands at the Archbishop Felixberto Flores Memorial Circle and was erected by the Filipino community on Guam two years after his death. The archbishop’s father was Filipino. Similarly, the Gwangju Museum of Art hosted a photo exhibition for climber Kim titled "Life Beyond the Mountains" last year. And it is no doubt that memorial projects in honor of Kim will be vigorously carried out in the days to come. It is men like these that inspire.
Never give up on your dreams, even if the odds are against you.
In Kook Kim is the head of mission for the Consular Office of the Republic of Korea on Guam.