Chapter 3

Rivers of ice

Arrival at base camp held enormous significance for all of us. For Ian it meant the end of an endless sea of administration, a chance to become again the climber who had thought up the madcap idea of climbing Everest in a pub one night long before. For Bruce it was a chance to lay aside the responsibilities and stresses of dealing with the rest of the group. For me it was both an achievement and a beginning. I had never imagined I would get even this close to the mountain and to have done so was a triumph in its own right. But it also marked the beginning of the real climbing - climbing that I would now be involved in.

It was strange to me how one could be paddling down the river of life, enjoying calm waters and clear views over each bank and then, suddenly, find oneself hurtling down a gorge, shooting rapids at an insane pace, twisting and winding between sheer cliffs, being taken on a wild ride in totally unexpected directions. Just six months earlier Everest had meant nothing in my life, in my plans. Now it towered over everything. Even when I had applied to join the team, I had had no idea what that was going to mean in terms of experience. The ride was proving tough, but fascinating. All I could do was hang onto my boat and try to ride over the waves, rather than drown under them.

Although Everest base camp is a place marked on a map, it is nothing more than that. It is a stretch of rock-covered ice hummocks on the outside curve of the Khumbu glacier, which sweeps down from the jumble of the icefall into the long valley below. Our camp consisted of two large green tents, high enough to stand in, which were used as a mess tent, and a communications and storage tent. We each had our own two-man tents as personal space. Just to pitch these little tents took half a day with a pickaxe to level a site and build a rock platform. 

No natural colour existed beyond brown-grey rock, white ice and blue sky. Nothing grew in this barren environment, and nothing lived there, beyond birds which followed the climbers up the valley to scavenge off their kitchen scraps. The ground cracked and groaned as the glacier readjusted to the enormous pressure it was under. The rumble of rock-fall was a common occurrence, while the roar of avalanche was sufficiently rare to bring us all out of the tents, reaching for our cameras. 

Yet on this barren wasteland a colourful and cosmopolitan community sprung up. Some 11 expeditions were attempting Everest that season, with climbers from 16 countries present. They were spread out over an area of several hundred square metres. 

Mal Duff, leader of a commercial Anglo-Danish expedition, was first to visit. A big, bluff, friendly Scotsman, he had climbed with Ian on the north face of Annapurna some years previously. Mal’s Sherpas had the responsibility for fixing and maintaining a safe route through the icefall. Other teams who used the route contributed financially. The icefall was, ever so slowly, flowing downhill, so the anchor points of the ropes and ladders had to be checked almost every day

Members of Mal’s all male team were to become frequent visitors at our camp and we often walked over to them for tea. However, Deshun and I were more interested in the various culinary delights, including French mustard and parmesan cheese, which his table offered. 

Temperatures on the glacier varied wildly, a clear, still midday sometimes even brought out pale arms and legs in shorts and T-shirts. Such experiments were of dubious success, the sight of our leader’s pale knees protruding from the type of khaki shorts in which Britain conquered the empire brought most of base camp to a shocked halt. Light snowfall generally followed in the afternoons. Once the sun sank behind Pumori, temperatures would drop several degrees within minutes and sink steadily from there. At night the mountains stood out as giant, jagged black masses on all sides, with the stars brilliantly clear in-between. Ignoring the beauty, we would dive for the warmth of our down bags for a serious twelve hours sleeping.

From base camp the summit of Everest was hidden, and only the very tip of Lhotse peaked out between the massive walls of the west ridge of Everest and the west face of Nuptse. The frozen rapid that tumbled down between the two walls dominated the view. In a horizontal distance of about three kilometres, it fell nearly a thousand metres. All day ant-like figures could be seen weaving a way through the maze of snowy blocks, their progress seemingly agonisingly slow from the vantage point of base camp. We watched an injured Sherpa being painstakingly lowered, strapped to a ladder. He had fallen through a snow bridge over a crevasse and broken a leg.

A helicopter then evacuated him from base camp. Base camp was as high as choppers could safely land. Even there the pilots dare not turn the engines off. Once above base camp the only means of rescue would be to be carried out on foot.

At base camp we finally got to know the Sherpas who would be climbing with us. Ian had deliberately chosen climbers with a high degree of experience who had not, however, reached the summit before. He wanted them to be sufficiently experienced to be able to climb on their own, given the small size of the expedition. But he also wanted them to be hungry for the summit, to want it as badly as we did.

Of the four climbing Sherpas, three had been above 8,000 metres on the Nepalese side. Jangbu, 32, had reached the summit of Everest, but from the Tibetan side. He was a lama at a monastery near Khari Khola, and climbed to fund his chosen profession. A reserved man, his face was impassive and his eyes always hidden behind rainbow-coloured reflective sunglasses.

Ang Dorje, the sirdar, we had already met, and had come to like his friendly manner and ready humour. Pemba Tenging, 28, was shy and retiring, but eager to please, with a wide grin showing off his sparkling gold tooth. His younger brother, Nawang Nurbu, 26, was more of a thug, with a taste for chang, the local rice wine. However, he was friendly and funny.

All the Sherpas were lean and strong, professional mountaineers at home in the harsh environment of the Himalaya. Born on the edges of the mountains, they had less difficulty than we did acclimatising lower down on the mountain. However, they too would eventually use oxygen to reach the summit. 

All, except Jangbu, had a wife and several children. This group of Westerners, none of whom had offspring, puzzled them. That Deshun and I could have reached the advanced ages of 26 and 27 and be unmarried fascinated them. We were addressed as ‘Didi’, a title meaning ‘older sister’, while the men were called ‘Sahib’. 

A meeting of all the expedition leaders and sirdars was convened. Ian and Bruce went with Ang Dorje. Following the dramas of the walk-in, our team was fairly notorious. The Americans for the most part ignored us completely. The British were friendly, viewing us with a kind of amused condescension. They wished us well but nobody thought we had a hope in hell of actually making the summit.

‘I’ve never seen so many egos packed into so little space,’ Ian announced on his return. 

The leaders had stood up one by one, and had announced who they were and what they had climbed before.

‘They all seem to have been on Everest before,’ Ian continued, ‘And New Zealand leader Rob Hall stood up and announced that he had reached the summit of Everest four times already, a record for a non-Sherpa climber!’

‘I thought Ian was going to burst into tears when he had to confess to never actually having climbed on Everest before,’ laughed Bruce. 

The teams had agreed on a plan to share the fixing of the safety ropes that would run most of the way from base camp to camp 4. The work would mostly be done by the Sherpas. Our Sherpas would help with the section from camp 3 to camp 4.

Our first jobs were to sort all the equipment. From now on everything moved on people’s backs. We began to open the piles of barrels and boxes. The floor of the storage tent became a chaos of stoves, gas canisters, food packs, tents, clothing, and dozens of sundry items. I made up food packs of cheese, biscuits, powdered drinks, chocolate and various sealed, pre-cooked meals. Ian sorted out the tents. Deshun ploughed through the sponsors’ promotional material, while Bruce checked medical equipment.

Although we were ready to begin climbing, progress was delayed by the wait for a propitious day on which to hold the puja, the ceremony in which the Sherpas asked the mountain god for safe passage. April 11 was declared an appropriate day. A chorten (stone altar) had been built on top of a small rise near the centre of the camp. Prayer flags were strung from this to all corners of the camp. They ran in a sequence of white, blue, yellow, green and red, representing clouds, sky, earth, water and rocks. A fire of juniper at the base of the altar produced sweet-smelling smoke to please the god. Around the chorten were laid offerings: chocolates, tsampa (ground barley), whiskey, milk tea and chang (rice wine). Jangbu led us through a long series of, to us, unintelligible chants. Once the ceremony was over, the party was on and we consumed the offerings, especially the whiskey and chang. The Sherpas believed that the blessing of the goddess was conveyed back to us by our eating the offerings. It was a very practical approach.

The rest of the day was spent doing last minute adjustments to climbing kit, sizing harnesses, pulling gaiters onto boots and gluing them in place, fixing leashes to ice-axes. The next day we would climb on the slopes of Everest for the first time. Deshun, not confirmed on the permit, could not join us yet.

I was consumed with a combination of excitement and nerves. It would be the first time I had ever actually climbed with Bruce and Ian.  It would give me a chance to gauge their ability and them a chance to assess mine. I still felt as if I was regarded as one of the ‘women’, rather than simply as a climber. In a sense it was amazing that this moment had ever come. The chance had seemed so remote when I had first read in the newspaper of this expedition. And then everything that had happened on the walk-in had blunted the excitement. There had been times when I thought the whole expedition would disintegrate. But I had persevered and now, at last, the moment had come.

At 5 a.m. the next morning my only coherent thought was how nice it would be to curl up again in my warm down sleeping bag. Still, twinges of anticipation cut through the fog of sleepiness. Ian was nodding over his cup of tea, like a little old gnome swamped in his huge blue jacket. He looked worse than I felt. I had already realised that early morning starts were not his strong point. Yet he was physically extremely tough. Behind the logic, the discipline, the reserve, I still didn’t know who he really was. 

Bruce was chatting on, disgustingly cheerful. He had a clear head and an even temper, which was good for the rest of us. He balanced out both my and Ian’s mood swings. 

Silence lay over the camp in the dark blue shadow of early morning. It was broken by a brief crack like gunshot. Everyone jumped. A heavy groan followed, and then silence. The ice was imperceptibly on the move.

We replaced our warm down jackets with windproof Goretex ones, pulled on over thermal underwear and fleece salopettes and jackets. Then on went gloves, hats and scarves. On our feet were huge plastic double boots. Finally my rucksack was loaded on. It sat on my back like the weight of sin. We moved slowly across the uneven, rocky terrain. The weight of the boots meant that it was like walking with a cement block on each foot. However, there was no other way up. No roads, no helicopters, nothing except two legs and a lot of will power.  

This was risk made real. It was one thing to sit in South Africa pontificating about the risks of high-altitude mountaineering. It was another to be approaching the notorious Khumbu icefall, about to put the theory to the test. The icefall has a nefarious reputation as the most dangerous part of Everest. All the ice blocks are unstable and there is little to be done to minimise the risk. And the icefall is only the beginning. 

We left as the first rays of sun were catching the peaks far down the valley. I could see small figures from other teams also moving towards the mountain slopes. We threaded a way over the ice hummocks of the glacier to the foot of the fixed line. The line ran up steep icy slopes, finding complex paths between tottering sculptures of snow and house-sized blocks of ice.

And then the ground vanished. Instead of smooth white snow in front of my feet, there was an ice-lipped chasm, disappearing down into uncharted depths in the bowels of the glacier. It was a crevasse, about four metres wide. The white ice changed in colour with depth, passing gradually from pastel blue into indigo, before disappearing into darkness. 

I saw ahead a thin metal ladder spanning the crevasse, as delicate as a bracelet. It was not one ladder but two, tied end to end, with a little bit of bright blue rope. There seemed one obvious solution to crossing it. I knelt and gingerly start to crawl across the ladder, staring down in wonder at the inky depths visible between the rungs. 

‘Give us a smile then, girl. Everest style at its best yet.’ Bruce’s voice boomed out cheerfully. It seemed there might be another way of doing this. Just when I was trying to look as if I knew what I was doing. 

Ian came next. He casually picked up the two ropes that lay slack on each side of the ladder. He twisted them round his wrists and walked across, using the rope tension to keep his balance. I didn’t like the look of that at all. But I was damned if I was going to crawl while the men walked. I walked across the next ladder with the handrail ropes wound so tightly round my wrists that I virtually cut off the circulation. But it worked. I could do it.

I climbed on, slowly. Each breath produced a burning sensation, rather than the sweet relief of oxygen-intake. The air pressure at base camp was only half that of sea level. By the time we approached the summit it would be down to a third. Long before reaching base camp we had encountered the first symptoms caused by inadequate amounts of oxygen: shortness of breath, slow movement, mild headaches, nausea. If we pushed too high, too fast, we risked Acute Mountain Sickness, which could kill in 24 hours. If we were patient our bodies would slowly acclimatise. 

The first section of the icefall had been a winding route of ladders and inclines. Now we had to tackle a series of steep snow walls. I was sweating from the exertion, but if I stopped the sweat began to freeze against my skin. As I tackled the next snow wall a cheerful voice came down from above. Ang Dorje grinned down at me, resplendent in his orange climbing salopettes. He seemed unmoved by the fact he had already been to the top of the icefall that morning and was on his way back down. 

I watched the Sherpas go with envy, as they moved so swiftly down the slopes I had just toiled up. They were a curious people, with their stoic acceptance of life’s hardships and their easy delight in its pleasures. I visited mountains for change, for challenge, for fun, but they lived there. They knew these mountains in a way I never would, and there was so much I wanted to know. But it was not always easy to break through their reserve, or to overcome the language difficulties. 

Once the sun emerged from behind the ridge of Nuptse, it beat down brutally through the thin atmosphere. The snow acted as a giant reflector. I concentrated only on moving from anchor to anchor on the safety line, trying not to look beyond that, not to search for signs of progress. I had been leading the group and was pleased with my progress. I know I am a slow but steady climber and was glad not to be in the company of ‘boy racers’. 

We worked our way cautiously under a gigantic overhang. A ceiling of rippled blue ice loomed out into space above us, looking ready to collapse. The adrenalin was pumping.  There was a curious fascination about the icefall. It was full of such bizarrely beautiful formations: ice as gnarled as ancient trees, as fragile as giant chandeliers, as intricate as lacework. And the colours were as intense as stained glass. The deep blue ripples of the ice roof were almost mesmerising in their complexity. But the temptation to stand and gawp, like a tourist in a cathedral, was soon repelled by the ever-present awareness of danger. 

I emerged from the overhang riding a surge of incredible exhilaration. The awesome realisation swept over me yet again: this was it! This was Everest!

We finally sighted camp 1 at 11am. It was a smattering of tiny tents, dwarfed by the giant silvery wall of Nuptse. We unanimously agreed that enough was enough.

The relief of stopping was so sweet. On the mountains I had climbed in the Andes, this would have been the culmination, a tiny summit with the pyramid of the mountain spreading away below me. This time it was only a small spot low, low down on the slopes of the pyramid that extended upwards for nearly another three kilometres. 

That night I crawled into my tent at base camp filled with a tired elation. I had no idea if I would make it all the way up this one, but I was not out of the running yet. My greatest fear had been not being able to keep up with my companions. And now I had proved I could do it, proved it both to them (although they had never asked for that) and most importantly to myself. Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t wait for the next day of climbing. I was on my way.

However, we had still not finally escaped from the troubles of the walk-in. A rumour had come up the trail that Ken Vernon and Richard Storey were on their way back to us. We were all horrified. The thought of facing their lugubrious faces at breakfast each morning was too much. We felt they had chosen their side, leaving with the men who resigned. Neither of them liked the assignment or were well suited to it. Ken strongly disliked Ian, and the chance of any objective reporting emerging from his pen was most unlikely. 

The outgoing Sunday Times editor, Ken Owen, was on the trail up to base camp as part of his leave pending retirement. We decided to send a letter to him, asking that the journalists be replaced. Ken Owen’s reply was blunt. The reporting team must remain with the expedition, otherwise the newspaper would sue for breach of contract. The rumour went that Ken Vernon had hoped to escape home but that Ken Owen had ordered him back up the trail.

Eventually we decided that we were the ones facing the dangers and the difficulties of the central challenge of the expedition - to summit the world’s highest mountain. To have to put up with the sniping criticism, aggression and resentment of Ken as well was too much. Ian and Bruce decided to walk back down the trail to meet Owen. We agreed that if the journalists arrived in the meantime the situation would be explained to them and they would be asked to leave.

The next morning Ian and Bruce left. Deshun and I had been invited to dinner at Mal’s camp. After lunch our cook staff were given the rest of the day off. Then I saw Andy walk past the tents and went out to talk to him.

He said that he had come back up to base camp with the hope of joining Scott Fischer’s expedition. Scott, an American, was leading a commercial expedition. However, our team’s liaison officer had told him that his name had been taken off the permit.

‘It’s not all that surprising,’ I said. ‘You did resign from the expedition.’

‘I don’t see it like that,’ he replied.

As he did not have the $10,000 needed to try and buy him a place on a permit, he was going to return to the United States. He walked off towards Scott’s camp. Charlotte passed the camp some time later, without stopping.

I knew now that Richard and Ken were somewhere on the glacier and I sat on a rock waiting. Deshun had retreated into her tent. I was keyed up with anticipation of the confrontation. Richard arrived first, on his own. I explained to him the feelings of the team and said that he was not welcome in our base camp. However, I offered him a place on the floor of the mess tent for the night and said we could find him some food. 

Richard made no protest and said he would rather spend the night at Scott’s camp.

He walked off and I settled down on a rock to wait for Ken. He arrived in the late afternoon. I told him, as reasonably as I could, what I had already said to Richard, offering him once again the mess tent and what provisions could be found. Ken’s eyes lit up as he readied for his favourite occupation of wading into a fight. 

He told me that Ian was the spawn of the devil and that I was a puppet under his control. He said that nothing I had told him came from me, I was being used by Ian. My temper was fraying and I replied acidly that he could take it as coming personally from me. He then said sarcastically that he supposed he wasn’t even going to be offered a cup of tea. I said that was right. He stalked off to our kitchen tent and demanded tea, which he received. Feeling that the Nepalese staff should not be drawn into the differences between the westerners, I left him there. I knew that if he chose to stay, the staff would look after him. I found Deshun, who had been lying in her tent, oblivious of the disagreements outside, and the two of us went over to Mal’s tent for dinner.

The next morning Ken and Richard left, having chosen to spend the night with the Swedish team. They passed Bruce and Ian close to Lobuche.

‘You know your boss is expecting you to be back up at base camp,’ Bruce said.

Ken simply spat at Ian, and walked on.

The following day our liaison officer, Murari Khatiwada, arrived at base camp. He was a small, rotund Nepalese government official. His job was to ensure that our expedition complied with the climbing regulations and treated our Nepalese staff fairly. He was not only in charge of us, but also in overall charge of all the liaison officers at base camp. 

When Ken and Richard had passed him, they had given him a letter of ‘official complaint’, alleging that they were ‘denied all facilities, including food and shelter’. Ken complained that he had been ‘exhausted and almost delirious after being lost on the Khumbu moraine’. Mr Khatiwada was furious, not about the peculiarities of the westerners, but about their endangering of their Nepalese porters.

‘How could this man have been lost on the glacier?’ he demanded. ‘Why did he not hire a guide if he did not know the way? And why was he alone, why did he and his companion not walk together? What about the porters he had with him? If no one knew they were coming, who was going to provide food and shelter for their porters?’

In the Sunday Times Ken was to make great play of having been refused a cup of tea as he staggered, lost, across the glacial wastes. Some members of the Mountain Club of South Africa were horrified at this seemingly callous action on my part and tried to have me thrown out of the club. I got something of a reputation as a hard-nosed bitch as a result of all this. Quite frankly, it was all worth it not to have to see Ken ever again.

In the meantime Ian and Bruce had met up with Ken Owen. He admitted that Ken Vernon’s reporting was very poor and said that, had it been his choice, Ken Vernon would never have been chosen. However he refused categorically to replace him, stating that no one told him what journalist he should assign. The conversation degenerated into a row. Ken Owen said he did not care if the two journalists were isolated from the team, if we refused them interviews and photographs, but he was adamant that they stay at base camp. The logic of this was incomprehensible. But no one was to tell Ken Owen what to do. The meeting ended on bad terms but with Ian and Bruce agreeing to take Ken Vernon and Richard. They, however, had fled for the safe harbour of Kathmandu and a flight home. Ken Owen was to write an article in his newspaper claiming that in the row with Ian he had looked into ‘the heart of darkness’. It all seemed a bit over the top.

There was to be one last fling from Charlotte. While in Kathmandu she had been seen walking along the very edge of the roof of the hotel. The management, fearing that she was suicidal, had called the police. Now she was back at base camp. When Andy left she moved in with the Swedish team. They were there in support of Goran Kropp who was attempting a solo ascent, without oxygen. He had cycled all the way from Sweden to Kathmandu, pulling his climbing kit in a trailer. Charlotte substantially exaggerated her degree of climbing experience, and tried to get onto their team. They made it quite clear that she could not climb without a permit. The penalty for climbing illegally on Everest could be a fine of up to $70,000 or 10 years suspension from Nepal for the expedition leader. 

One morning she left alone and climbed through the icefall. She was discovered by Goran, who was horrified. The Swedish liaison officer already knew what had happened, having been told by Sherpas who passed her in the icefall. Goran could see years of planning, long months of cycling, weeks of dangerous solo climbing on the mountain being ruined by the Nepalese government withdrawing his permit to climb Everest. He ordered her down immediately.

Mr Khatiwada, as chief liaison officer, gave Charlotte two hours notice to leave base camp. He accepted that the Swedish had not known of her plan and allowed them to continue climbing.

Our plan was now to move up to camp 2 for acclimatisation. However, my body was not co-operating. I would jerk awake at night, my throat raw and my chest heaving. Rolling over I would begin long, jerking spasms of coughing. I was worried about contracting bronchitis again. What I had experienced on the walk-in had not been pleasant.  

Yet we had to move up the mountain. The season, which ran through April and May, ended when Everest became engulfed by the summer monsoon storms, sometime during the last week of May. Waiting for me to recover jeopardised everybody’s chances. In the end the success of the project had to be more important than that of any of the individuals involved in it. Eventually it was decided that Bruce and Ian would go on without me. I sat by the door of my tent and watched the two figures slowly dwindling in the distance. I had been so buoyed up by my climb through the icefall, and now I was being left behind. I wondered if I would be able to catch up with them again. Was my expedition now grinding to an end? It was a sad moment.

While the men were at camp 2 a young Nepalese runner had arrived with three ‘registered’ letters, one each for Deshun and myself, and one for Ian. We signed a scruffy scrap of paper with a little stub of pencil. 

Deshun and I opened ours to find a message from Brian Pottinger. He told us that he had put Ian on 24 hours notice of their intention to withdraw the Sunday Times’s name from the expedition unless Ian undertook to meet his contractual obligations. He told us we would no longer be climbing under the banner ‘of the country’, that he would understand if we wished to withdraw from the team and that our safety was ‘of prime concern’. 

We were at a loss as to how Brian could stop us climbing as South Africans. Beyond that, we were simply amused. Brian sent the same letter to my father, presumably meant to scare the parents into summoning their little girl home. However, my parents were made of sterner stuff than that.

The era of the runner pounding up the trail ended when Philip Woodall rejoined us. He had returned to Kathmandu to try to get all the satellite communications equipment working. Once he had got the system up and running, he had had it all carefully packed, first into a helicopter, and then onto the back of zopkioks. Another friendly face was a very welcome addition to base camp.

The yak herders watched in fascination as the satellite aerial was erected. The latest in 20th century technology was provided courtesy of transport that has being been used in the Himalaya for thousands of years. On the evening of 23 April we were finally connected to the outside world. 

In the meantime Ian and Bruce had returned from camp 2. The return and reunion with Philip was celebrated by Bruce and Philip drinking so much red wine and whiskey that Bruce could not even stand to pee. The resulting headaches apparently had to be experienced to be believed. 

Brian Pottinger’s letter to Ian claimed he was in breach of agreement for not having a Times Media Limited (the Sunday Times holding company) reporter and photographer with the team and for not keeping TML fully informed of events at all times.

Brian demanded immediate reinstatement of the two reporters and a full report on the status of the expedition. Failure to do so would mean that TML would withdraw their sponsorship. It was clear that Brian had not read the contract that he was quoting from, which, among other things, stated that either party had to be given seven days to rectify any alleged breach of contract. It was clear, too, that in Brian’s terms the Sunday Times had already breached the contract through the earlier withdrawal of their reporting team. 

Brian phoned within minutes of the satellite phone having been plugged in. He and Ian had a long and reasonably amicable discussion. Ian agreed to fulfil Brian’s requirements but was told it was now too late for that.

Brian said that the Sunday Times was now in a position where they had no choice but to pull out, but said that the newspaper would like to continue reporting on the expedition. Ian explained that that was a little too much like having their cake and eating it. We discovered later that the announcement that they were pulling out had been released before Brian had even spoken to Ian.

Once Ian had put the phone down, it rang again almost immediately. This time it was Cecil Lyons, marketing manager of Radio 702, the Gauteng talk radio station which was one of the expedition’s sponsors. Once he was sure the expedition was to continue, he packed a young reporter, Patrick Conroy, onto the next available flight to get our story. Patrick, terrified we might summit before he arrived, rushed up the trail, asking every porter he passed for news of us. He cancelled all the rest days on his schedule, and arrived at base camp half dead. However, he was determined to cover the story. 

The withdrawal of the Sunday Times had little direct effect on us. None of the other 31 sponsoring companies withdrew, nor did the patron, President Nelson Mandela, despite Brian Pottinger’s urgings that they do so. Radio soon filled the gap in terms of media. The newspaper spewed out negative coverage, aided by the return of Ken Vernon, Ken Owen, Ed and Hack to South Africa. We, of course, did not get to read it and simply heard rumours through the radio presenters and from family. There was little we could do to defend ourselves, so we simply concentrated on climbing the mountain.

However, the Sunday Times could and did hinder Deshun from climbing. We received a fax from Kathmandu saying that the Sunday Times were trying their best to stop the expedition. They had faxed the ministry and the ministry had decided not to help with Deshun’s permit. The only alternative was to buy an extra place for $10,000. But the expedition did not have any spare money, nor did anyone Deshun knew have those sort of sum to spare. Then my father offered to pay for her place from his own money. During the two weeks before the expedition left South Africa, Deshun had been staying with my parents and me. They had come to know her well.

We applied once more to the ministry, this time with the backing of our liaison officer, Mr Khatiwada. He had become well acquainted with Deshun in the long days they had spent together at base camp and was as keen that she should get to climb as any of the rest of us.

The drama was not quite over. On 2 May we heard that the ministry had refused to put Deshun on the permit because of negative letters received from the Sunday Times, saying that neither she nor I was qualified to be on the mountain. Then on 6 May we heard that, because of persistent lobbying by friends of the expedition in Kathmandu, she had finally been granted a place on the permit. The last of the saga was over. 

The other individuals faded from our lives. Andy and his wife divorced, and he became engaged to Charlotte. Ed cried tears on television about his shattered dreams of Everest but has yet to do anything about realising them himself. Ken Vernon wrote a book about the expedition which criticised everyone, the Sunday Times and his bosses included. Brian Pottinger gave it a scathing review in the Sunday Times. Incredibly, he continues to work for them. 


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