Ambition and tragedy

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Only one other woman has reached the summit of K2. Julie Tullis achieved her lifetime's ambition when she scaled the world's most dangerous mountain nine years ago. She died on the descent.

When a friend telephoned Terry Tullis yesterday to tell him of fears for Alison Hargreaves, it brought back every heart- stopping detail of the expedition which finally claimed his wife.

"I didn't know Alison, but anybody who is on K2 is close to my heart," Mr Tullis said. "I was hoping she would do it. I wanted to write a letter of congratulation, not one of condolence."

Julie Tullis, 42, drifted from sleep to death after acting as sound recordist for fellow climber and film-maker, Kurt Diemburger. Another Briton in the party, Alan Rouse, 34, also died, too exhausted to move.

Yet Mr Tullis, now 60 and a climbing teacher in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said he would never have dreamt of asking Julie to give up her climbing.

"I would never have done that. If people have got something they want to do, then they should do it. It's the only thing that made Britain great, people exploring and pushing to the limits. I would respect the wishes of people like Julie and Alison all the way.

"There had already been about 11 deaths on K2 that year, but that summit was her and Kurt's dream. If Alison has managed it, that's brilliant news, that's gorgeous. To me it makes everything worthwhile. She did what she wanted."

Death is the fear every mountaineer's partner lives with. "Every expedition, every time she left home, you were left with the thought that it might happen," Mr Tullis said.