By the end of the unsuccessful climb, his feet were numb with severe frostbite, and they required amputation.
Twenty years later, both of his legs would be amputated, too, after he developed lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer.
But none of that stopped Xia from trying to climb Mount Everest. Finally, on Monday morning, he reached the 8,848-meter summit on his fifth attempt.
Xia, who is 69 or 70 years old, according to news reports, became at least the third double amputee in history to scale the mountain and the first to do it on the Nepal side, a Nepal Ministry of Culture and Tourism official confirmed to the local Kathmandu Post.
Dawa Futi Sherpa of Imagine Trek and Expedition, which organized the climb and accompanied him up the mountain, told The Washington Post that Xia completed the climb with several other members of his team.
“Climbing Mount Everest is my dream,” he said then. “I have to realize it.”
In December, the Nepal government banned double amputees and people who are blind from climbing mountains in an effort to reduce the number of accidents. The new rules immediately drew criticism from disability rights organizations that said such a ban was discriminatory. It affected not only Xia but also a former Gurkha soldier, Hari Budha Magar, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan and who was also planning to scale Mount Everest.
Xia had already been dealing bad luck at the time the ban went into effect. For the past three consecutive years, he had tried to reach Mount Everest’s summit and failed all three times, mostly because of natural disasters.
In 2014, he had trained for the climb and returned to the mountain, for the first time since 1975 — but then his climb got canceled after an avalanche killed 16 other climbers. In 2015, he prepared again, only for the climb to be canceled because of a devastating earthquake in Nepal. And in 2016, he nearly made it. But with 200 meters left to climb a treacherous blizzard forced him to turn back, the Japan Times reported.
So when the Nepal government issued its ban in December, Xia told the Japan Times he “panicked,” afraid that perhaps he had lost his chance for good.
Three months later, however, Nepal’s high court overturned the ban on double amputee and blind climbers, agreeing that it discriminated against disabled people.
Within weeks, Xia applied for his climbing permit.
Xia joins Mark Inglis of New Zealand as at least the second person without legs to climb the world’s tallest mountain. Inglis completed his climb in 2006 as the first double amputee to reach the summit from the Chinese side. Sudarshan Gautam, a Nepal-born Canadian, became the first person without arms to climb Mount Everest in 2013.