British mountaineer Alan Hinkes has climbed into the history books with his successful ascent of Kangchenjunga, becoming the first Briton to climb all 14 of the world's 8000m-plus peaks.
Alan now joins a very elite club, since he is only the 13th person in the world to climb all the "eight-thousanders", ranged across Pakistan and Nepal. And this quest, known as "Challenge 8000", supported by outdoor equipment manufacturer Berghaus, has taken 18 years of hard work and dedication. At 8586m Kangchenjunga is the world's third highest mountain and is considered the second most difficult 8000m peak after K2. Alan knows the mountain well, having twice narrowly failed to reach the summit in the past five years. First in 2000, he was beaten back by huge snow-falls and a broken arm, then two years later he fell ill. But now, in 2005, his legendary perseverance has paid off and it really is third time lucky.
Climbing just one 8000m peak is a significant achievement for any climber. Above 8000m - known as the Death Zone - humans can only live for a few days, the air is simply too thin to sustain life. Rescue is also impossible should anything go wrong. The high mountains have claimed many lives, but Alan is known in the climbing community for his cautious approach to mountaineering. He believes that no mountain is worth a life, simply that coming back is a success, and if he summits it’s a bonus.
Alan is an International Mountain Guide, and high profile British climber, but in-between expeditions he still finds time to support the work of the BMC. He is deeply involved with local climbing issues in the North East, being Chair of the North East Area Committee, and is a member of the BMC International Committee.
The BMC, via funding from the Mount Everest Foundation (MEF) and UK Sport, supports approximately 40 British climbing expeditions each year. British mountaineering is in an incredibly healthy state at the moment, partly due to this unique arrangement. Recent other British successes include such diverse achievements as first ascents of the highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, in Venezuela, and the NW ridge of Ama Dablam - described as a "last great problem" on one of the worlds greatest peaks. Fittingly this year also sees the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga (8586m), by two other British climbers, Joe Brown and George Band. One of only two of the 8000m peaks to be first climbed by Brits this "quiet triumph" has often been overlooked. To celebrate this achievement a new exhibition is on display at the Rheged Discovery Centre near Penrith, entitled Kangchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak.
BMC Chief Executive, Dave Turnbull said: "Alan's ascent of all 14 of the worlds 8000 metre peaks is an outstanding achievement and a milestone in British mountaineering history. The effort required for success on just one of the world's highest peaks is considerable but to climb all 14 requires immense personal drive and focus sustained over many years. Alan's ascent of Kangchenjunga (8586m) assures him a place in the record books alongside Reinhold Messner and other mountaineering greats."
Speaking about his epic ordeal live from base camp at 6000 metres, Alan said: "The final summit push was without a doubt the hardest climb of my life. We left base camp on Thursday 26 May and began to push up the mountain. The weather had not been good which meant there was an awful lot of fresh snow to break through. Risk of avalanche was incredibly high and every step of the way was a matter of physical and mental endurance. Getting back to base camp was one of the best feelings of my life. I sat down in my tent and thought I've finally done it!" - Quote courtesy of Berghaus.
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