British climber's Himalayan ordeal ends

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The Independent Online
The British mountaineer Alan Hinkes was resting in Islamabad, Pakistan, last night after spending an excruciating seven days with a slipped disc stranded on a Himalayan mountain.

Bizarrely, the specialist who finally diagnosed the injury turned out to have just returned from nine years working in Darlington Memorial Hospital - only 20 miles from where Mr Hinkes grew up, in Northallerton in North Yorkshire. Dr Rifat Zaidi told Mr Hinkes: "I thought I recognised your accent."

He plans to return to Britain next week to rehabilitate the injury which, in another strange touch, was set off when he was eating a chapati about halfway up the mountain. Some of its flour made him sneeze. The muscular strain caused a prolapsed disc which could take up to three months to heal completely.

The climber was yesterday taken by helicopter from the lower slopes of Nanga Parbat, which at 8,128 metres (26,660ft) is one of the 14 mountains in the world over 8,000m. Mr Hinkes had previously climbed eight of the 14, and had intended to set a record by conquering the other six in a single season. If he can climb all 14, he will become only the sixth person to achieve the feat, and the first native English speaker.

But so far in 1997 Mr Hinkes has only managed one, Lhotse, and now fears that if it takes too long for his injury to heal that could rule out an attempt this autumn on the two peaks of Annapurna (8,091m) and Dhaulagiri (8,167m).

He used a satellite phone to call Berghaus, his sponsors on the pounds 70,000 expedition, and to call for a helicopter. But for days, the pilot was unable to reach him, leaving Mr Hinkes stranded at his base camp with shrinking supplies of food and painkillers. "I was having three-hour back spasms," he recalled yesterday.

Eventually, on Sunday, he managed to ignore the pain enough to climb down 700m to 3,350m, just above a glacier which would have made further progress more difficult, hoping it would be easier for a helicopter to reach him. "I got my cook to build a bonfire, with branches from nearby shrubs, and to make a big H with stones on the ground, then just before dawn broke today I called the helicopter Charles Arthur