Everest climber's conquering moment woman talks to the Indy

Alison Hargreaves, the first woman to scale Everest unaided, tells Glenda Cooper about her achievement
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The Independent Online
"To be honest my only frightening thought was not being able to do it," Alison Hargreaves said yesterday. "I was worried about the weather and there was a chance I couldn't reach the summit."

Recalling the moment on 13 May when she realised the summit was within her grasp, she said: "I was overwhelmed. Climbing the north side as you get to the top of the ridge you can see the summit 5 or 10 minutes before you reach it. That was when I knew I was going to get there. I kept thinking to myself `I'm going to make it' and it was so moving and I was crying until I literally reached the summit. It may sound emotional but it was a very emotional experience for me. It had all been such hard work."

She spent about 45 minutes on the summit "although it seemed about 10", she said from Kathmandu, Nepal. "I could see everything. It was strange because it wasn't a completely clear day but there was a crystal-clear blue sky. There was just mountain after mountain, such an amazing sight. And then there were all these things that other people had planted up on the summit.

"People leave all sorts of things - prayer flags and scientific instruments. I took up a red Chinese silk flower in memory of those who did not make it."

Climbers call altitudes above 26,000 feet the "death zone" because the body deteriorates very quickly. Ms Hargreaves, whose health has not suffered, said she had been careful: "When I reached the summit and came down to the top camp [27,200ft] where I had spent the previous night I decided that the altitude was too high to sleep there again. So I picked up my tent and went down even lower to where it was safer even though it meant I had to make my way down for seven hours since reaching the top."

With no sherpas, she carried everything. "That included a tent, mat, stove, gas, sleeping bag, torch, headlamp, candles - you name it, I carried it."

It was necessary to be extra careful as she was alone: "I kept in radio contact with people on base camp. On the way down I dropped it and gave everyone a few worries because they couldn't see me and hadn't heard from me since 2pm and I didn't get to camp until 7."

She doubts if her achievement will inspire many other women to become professional climbers: "It's not a very easy way of earning a living." But she hoped it would be a positive influence. "Women are particularly good at building up emotional and mental barriers - it might give them that extra oomph to try to achieve."

When she arrives home in Invernesshire in a couple of days "the first thing I want to do is give the kids a big cuddle".

But it will be a short stay. In three weeks she attempts to climb K2, the world's second- highest peak.