His name has been in the book of Guinness World Records since 2013, when he became the first to reach the top of Mount Everest twice in the same climbing season.
And now David Liaño González, a 36-year-old Mexican, is back in the news after he and two British climbers – Kenton Cool, 42, and Robert Lucas, 53 – became the first foreigners to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain following an avalanche in 2014 that killed 16 and an earthquake in April of 2015 that shattered much of Nepal.
Liaño, who lives between Seattle and Mexico City, trained for nearly four months to leave his footprint at the top of the 29,029-foot (8,848 meters) mountain.
He started hypoxic training in January, sleeping in a tent with low oxygen levels to mimic high altitudes. He climbed several mountains, and ran a marathon before heading to Nepal.
“The plan was to do it (reach the summit) without oxygen, but in the end I did it with oxygen,” he said via Skype from Katmandu, the capital of Nepal.
It was the sixth time he conquered the highest mountain in the world. His passion for mountaineering seized him at the age of 13, and for the past 23 years he has been reflecting on why people just decide one day to start climbing mountains, why they risk their lives to stand on top of a mountain.
“If you don't do it for altruistic motives, climbing may be something very personal that could be viewed as selfish,” said Liaño, who acknowledged that after all the hard work, the sacrifice and the cost – reaching the summit of Mount Everest can cost about $50,000 – what's left are just memories and photographs.
“If you do this for a more worthwhile cause, where someone can benefit from all of this, that's what gives meaning to climbing,” he said. He found his cause in depression.
“This is a very personal issue that I have experienced at close quarters, with relatives, friends,” Liaño said. The disease, considered to be of epidemic proportions in this century, affects 350 million people around the globe, according to the World Health Organization.
“It's true that in developed countries there's a greater awareness of this mental disorder, more education, and there's support for people who suffer from it,” the climber said. That's not the case in many developing countries, like in Latin America or Nepal. In many regions, depression is a stigma.
Liaño, who also pilots paragliders, found his inspiration during an epic 6,200-mile motorcycle ride through India. That's where he met the Live Love Laugh Foundation Against Depression. Founded by a popular actress, Deepika Padukone, it seeks to raise awareness about depression and improve the lives of those who suffer from the disease.
And that's why photos of Liaño on top of the world always show him holding the flag of the humanitarian organization.
Surprises at the summit
When Liaño climbed Mount Everest on May 12, he witnessed the changes brought on in recent years by climate change and earthquakes.
The Khumbu icefall, well-known as one of main obstacles for climbing Everest on the South Col route, is melting and making it even more dangerous, as massive blocs of ice grow increasingly unstable.
But Liaño's biggest surprise came just a few feet from the summit. The Hillary Step, a 40-foot wall of rock and ice considered the toughest part of the southern route, has disappeared. The feature, name after Sir Edmond Hillary, who first climbed Mount Everest on May 28 of 1953, has been erased by earthquakes.
Liaño, in Katmandu on his way home, said he was already thinking about returning to the summit because “I still have some challenges left on Everest.” Among them: jumping off the summit on one of his paragliders.