Scaling new heights

Dipti Sherchan


British mountaineer Alan Hinkes is back again in Nepal and this time to attempt to conquer Dhaulagiri (8,167m), the seventh highest mountain in the world. He is the UK’s most successful extreme attitude mountaineer and the first Briton to have climbed 12 of the 14 8,000m peaks including some of the world’s most famous and dangerous mountains such as Everest and K2.

It is a quantifiable mountaineering achievement; so far less than 12 people in the world have ever completed this Grand Slam. That equals the number of people who have stood on the moon. “I feel privileged. I don’t know what to say. It is nice to do them all. When I climb all the 14 it will be even better. I think I will be satisfied then. I am sure it will be a feeling similar to winning a gold medal in the Olympics. I am nearly there!”

The unusual thing about Alan is that unlike other mountaineers who hoist their national flag, he prefers taking his own snap along with the photo of his daughter Fiona at the peak.

His mission ‘Challenge 8,000 Expedition’ is to be the first Briton to climb all 14 8,000m peaks. Now he has only two more to accomplish — Dhaulagiri now and then Kanchenjunga. Two more and he will pass the toughest entrance exam in the world, joining an elite club of just seven mountaineers. Both these mountains are in the death zone, an unforgiving environment where the human body rapidly deteriorates and no survive for more than a few days. “Each mountain I climb offers its own challenges. Dhaulagiri will be a tough mountain to climb, made up of complex ridges and icefalls and the trek into base camp alone will take two weeks. I will be travelling through the Kali Gandaki valley, the deepest in the world before making a modern, lightweight summit attempt. But I am feeling confident. As I have always said I climb to live, not to die, the summit is always optional but returning is mandatory.”

Dhaulagiri may be his second last expedition but it is also the 13th mountain on his list. Does he consider it unlucky? Alan says he does not believe in such superstitious notions. “Thirteen could be lucky for me!”

Born on April 26, 1954 Alan started climbing mountains seriously in 1987 with Shisha Pangma in Northern Tibet and then deciding to try conquer the 14 highest peaks in the world. It was after he had climbed eight of them in 1997 that he decided since he was more than halfway there he better finishes it soon. “I do get scared sometimes but I put fear in the back of my mind. You have to control fear because if you cannot then the anxiety can kill you. I try and make sure that I survive for my daughter. Fiona gives me strength to survive. She trusts me to return home. Risking my life doing what I love is one thing, letting my daughter down is another.” He left for Dhaulagiri from Kathmandu on April 13. “I think within seven weeks

I will be back and maybe before that. Next year I plan to finish my ‘Challenge 8,000 Expedition’. After the expedition is done, I think I will come to enjoy Nepal without having to climb. Maybe then I will do lots of trekking and even try smaller mountains — the 6,000m peaks and enjoy them.”