From the top

Updated: 2012-05-04 08:46

By Liu Xiaozhuo (China Daily)

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From the top

Sun Bin in Antarctica in 2010. Provided to China Daily

Chinese climber looks beyond horizon

Sun Bin stands below an obstacle-studded training wall at the rock climbing club in Peking University and looks up. "This is where I began my life of climbing and adventure," says the 35-year-old, who graduated from the university in 2000.

Sun is considered a Chinese veteran of mountaineering and outdoor adventuring, in a field that is slowly catching up with its Western counterparts as more people in the country become affluent and seek thrills and fulfillment in the "great outdoors".

A former member of the national mountaineering team, Sun is also co-founder and operator of a company providing high-end "adventure tourism" - which mainly involves guides and services for expeditions to famous mountain peaks around the world.

There is only one other company in China that offers similar services, Sun says.

"When I was still a college student, mountaineering was not popular at all in China, let alone other more extreme outdoor offerings like ice climbing," he says.

"I remember people in the subway looking at us with curious eyes when we returned to town lugging our huge backpacks."

Sun says modern mountaineering activities first appeared in China in the 1950s and were mostly organized by the government to reflect "national power". That remained the case until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a small group of Chinese hobbyists became interested in climbing. This group of thrill-seekers did not grow very much before the start of the new millennium.

But with economic development and the spread of the Internet, more people such as university students living in big cities soon gained access to mountaineering information and took up the sport - expanding interest away from the margins of mainstream society.

"More people started taking part but it was still not very popular at that time," Sun says. "In my opinion, the real development of climbing will be marked by its widespread interest among the common people."

Sun himself seems like someone who takes the path less traveled.

Facing graduation 12 years ago, he was unlike many young Chinese, mulling over common desk-bound jobs. He very quickly chose to make his interest in climbing his career.

Sun says it might still be too early to know if his career will be successful but he is "very proud" to have persisted with it.

So far though, it has been a rewarding journey.

Sun started to work for the Chinese Mountaineering Association in 2000 and was a member of the mountaineering team until 2006.

Fueled by his passion for mountaineering, Sun has conquered numerous peaks worldwide, including Mont Blanc, Mount Kilimanjaro and the highest of them all - Qomolangma, also known as Mount Everest in the West.

In 2006, he was involved in the project to transport the Olympic torch up Qomolangma for the 2008 Beijing Olympics Torch Relay. Sun's group was tasked with taking the torch to the top of the world as part of a drill in 2007. Their efforts guaranteed the success of this unprecedented event.

"The Olympics Games are like an old friend to me. My wife is working for the Beijing Olympic City Development Association and they will have a pavilion at the 2012 London Olympic Games to promote China and Beijing's image," Sun says.

Sun founded his company in the capital after the increase in mountaineering activity following the Beijing Games.

"There are three signs that show the quick expansion of mountaineering in China. First, more people are taking part in mountaineering and outdoor adventures. Second, the peripheral industry is increasing by the rate of 50 percent every year. The third is diversification, which means different people need different kinds of adventure experiences," Sun says.

High mountain adventures offer people different environments from their daily life, he says. These people realize their self value when they overcome any difficulties in the open, and that is exactly what his company wants to provide to customers.

Sun says his customers are mostly successful businessmen.

"It's true that they are very accomplished in their own fields. After achieving so much, they are more willing to seek more challenges to reach a higher summit. That makes their lives meaningful," Sun says.

Climbing places new obstacles in people's ways and it requires them to devote themselves physically and emotionally to overcome them.

"The sense of achievement will be much stronger when you conquer a summit than when you bid for a business project successfully," he says.

Sun generalizes the programs he offers as "7 plus 2" - which means the highest mountains of seven continents and the two poles. Last January, some of his customers went to the South Pole, forking out 700,000 yuan ($111,133; 84,333 euros) each for the adventure.

Sun is now organizing an expedition to Mount McKinley in Alaska, the highest peak in North America at more than 6,000 meters above sea level. His group will set off in June and there are currently seven clients taking part, each paying 110,000 yuan for the expedition.

"All of them are entrepreneurs," Sun says.

Sun says some of his customers will also go to the Caucasus in August, Kilimanjaro in October and Aconcagua of the Andes mountain range in November.

While his job might seem like the adventure of a lifetime for many people, Sun says he will gladly trade it all to build a school to provide climbing courses for Chinese people - a dream he has had for quite a long time.

He is already laying the foundations of his mountaineering school, which he hopes will provide professional training for a core group of people - including university students, local residents who can act as mountain guides, and members of the more than 1,000 climbing clubs across the country - to promote mountaineering activities.

"The enormous expansion of mountaineering activity in China has brought many problems. Many climbers lack the proper education and training and rescue operations are still not adequate," he says.

"I want to train this core group of people to help mountaineering activities develop more smoothly in China."

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