Everest heroine has mountain of cliches to climb

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NO ONE said it was going to be easy. The expenditure of effort, ingenuity and determination drew gasps from Everest-watchers but, ultimately, failure loomed large.

Rebecca Stephens simply wouldn't say: 'I'm on top of the world.'

The return of the first British woman to climb to the highest spot on the planet was a glitzy event. Even before she landed at Heathrow, the DHL Everest 40 team had put together a three-minute video of the triumph, with Ain't No Mountain High Enough on the backing track.

Ms Stephens, 31, was exhausted after her descent of Everest and the journey home but she was still up to the challenge of a press conference at the Royal Geographical Society yesterday. She is, after all, a journalist.

How do you feel? she was asked repeatedly. The response was measured, recalling the team's concern over the weather forecast, which suggested poor conditions for an attempt on the summit.

Fortunately, she said, the report had been as 'wrong as it could be. There was a niggling worry about the weather . . . should I turn back, should I turn back, but we didn't until we reached the summit.'

Yes, but how did you feel on the summit? 'Well, the weather was kind of still . . . and the summit itself came quicker than I thought it would. And there was a huge sense of relief, but it was also quite windy and cold. I can remember . . . a slight panic thinking we shouldn't hang around.'

Not a metaphor in sight.

But when you were on the roof of the world, what emotions were going through your mind? 'It was a sense of achievement shared with the Sherpas, Aing Pasang, Kami Tsheri and Shera Jambu. I didn't want to go home without giving it a really good go.'

There was a sense of disappointment. The DHL press release had said she was on top of the world, and she had said it on top of the mountain, but Ms Stephens didn't say it again. She was, she said, tired. And she intended to hit the booze but no, she was not planning to get married.

For the climbers, the event was clouded by the news that Harry Taylor, 33, who climbed to the top without extra oxygen, was in hospital with a blood clot on a lung, though he was expected to be released next week.

Queuing for glory, page 12

Leading article, page 24

(Photograph omitted)