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Kiwi risks death to fulfil Everest dream

Published: 8:37AM Tuesday May 10, 2011 Source: Fairfax

  • Grant Rawlinson (Source: Farifax)
    Grant Rawlinson - Source: Farifax

A Kiwi climber is preparing to risk a second bout of deadly altitude sickness as he takes on his dream of climbing the world's highest mountain.

Grant Rawlinson is attempting to climb Mt Everest by the notoriously difficult north face. But as he climbed the route last week, he had a near-fatal encounter with high-altitude pulmonary oedema, known to climbers as HAPE.

The problems began as he set off from Advanced Base Camp at 6350 metres to climb to North Col Camp at 7050m.

"After 45 mins I knew something was wrong," he wrote on his blog. "I could not keep up with the very slow pace ... So reluctantly I returned to Advanced Base Camp."

That night, he developed a tell-tale rattling in his chest. "I coughed up a huge ball of bloody spit. I immediately knew I was suffering the initial stages of HAPE."

The same condition killed Kiwi mountaineer Gary Ball in 1993.

Rawlinson had no option but to descend the next day, with help from a sherpa called Nima, whom he described as his guardian angel. "Whenever I staggered or was about to fall, I felt his hand on my shoulder supporting me."

After making base camp, Rawlinson travelled to the village of Tashi Dzom, a "festering flea-pit", to recover while his Everest dream hung in the balance.

A New Zealander based in Singapore, he has dreamed of climbing Everest for 10 years, and is raising money for two youth charities.

"Mentally, I am definitely not finished with this mountain. However, it is my body which will make the decision," he wrote.

After three days in a squalid hotel, on a diet of biscuits and water, he developed a tooth abscess and diarrhoea.

On Sunday, he returned to base camp on a 150cc Chinese motorbike. "Every jolt was ... like someone sticking a red-hot needle into my tooth and jaw."

He has now decided to make another ascent, despite the risks of a second bout of altitude sickness.

"If it does happen, it will be more severe than the first time and I will need immediate assistance to get down ASAP. I know the risks. It's my decision ultimately. I pray my body will support my decision."