K2: Hillary's claims challenged

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The Independent Online
The husband of climber Alison Hargreaves yesterday questioned an account of her final hours which suggested she and her companions were affected by "summit fever" and pressed ahead, heedless of the dangers.

Jim Ballard, whose wife died with six other climbers on K2, the world's second-highest mountain, disputed the account given by New Zealander Peter Hillary, who said the climbers had ignored signs of worsening weather.

Mr Ballard said there were "substantial differences" between this account and that of two Spanish climbers now recovering from frostbite injuries.

But he did not elaborate on the differences or specify which part of Mr Hillary's account he took issue with. He also declined to summarise the account of the Spaniards.

Speaking at the Nevis Range ski resort in Scotland, Mr Ballard said: "There is an interview with the two surviving Spaniards, done by someone who is bilingual and who is involved in the mountaineering world. The report he read to me last night has sufficient differences to make it important to me that if people want to take this matter any further, they compare the two."

Mr Ballard also said he and his wife's friends were considering whether to set up a foundation in her memory "to enable women and other people that need help to climb their own mountains".

Mr Hillary, whose father, Sir Edmund, was the first man to conquer Everest, told the Independent that Ms Hargreaves and five other climbers - an American, a New Zealander and three Spaniards died after deciding to press on for the summit in fading light and poor weather. A seventh climber Jeff Lakes, a Canadian, abandoned the attempt but died later, possibly from exhaustion.

Mr Hillary, who turned back from the summit when he saw ominous weather conditions, said a "chemistry" had developed among those climbers, from three combined expeditions, which drove them onwards to the summit.

"It was so clear that this big, black nasty-looking bank of cloud to the north was coming in, and prudence said withdraw," Mr Hillary said. "I did, and hoped they would do the same. But they did not."

The group had become "blinkered and simply focused on the top", said Mr Hillary, who attributed this in part to the dynamics of being in a group.