Sue Fear

Climber and adventure travel guide
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The Independent Online

Last year, the Australian mountaineer Sue Fear told her story in a book entitled Fear No Boundary: the road to Everest and beyond. The surname was of course a gift to headline writers, though its holder admitted to being scared almost to the point of running away as ferocious winds battered her ultimately successful attempt on Everest in 2003.

The book was co-authored by Lincoln Hall, one of Australia's best-known writer-climbers. If the name is familiar it is probably because Hall hit the headlines worldwide last month ago when Sherpas rescued him from high on Everest's north side after he had been assumed dead.

Fear was not so fortunate. Just days later, on 28 May, while descending another of the Himalayan giants on the Nepal-Tibet border, Manaslu (8,163m), she broke through the crust of a hidden crevasse and plunged into its freezing darkness. Fear's Nepali companion, Bishnu Gurung, tried for two hours to pull her to the surface - they had been roped together - but to no avail.

Gurung could get no response from Fear and the lip of the crevasse was crumbling, imperilling himself as well as impeding any chance of rescue. Hauling an unconscious, or dead, person from a crevasse single-handedly is extremely difficult without an elaborate pulley system or fortunate lie of the ground.

When Fear and Gurung had reached the top of Manaslu shortly before 11am, it was the Australian's fifth 8,000-metre summit and she must have wondered how many more of the 14 such peaks she would be granted. She did not believe one "conquered" mountains. Fear was already Australia's "first lady of mountaineering" and believed her best climbing was probably still to come.

Sue Fear was raised in St Ives, New South Wales; a sporty girl who soon developed an enthusiasm for outdoor activities, including bushwalking and skiing, and gained a Duke of Edinburgh's gold award. She started climbing in her early twenties with a course in New Zealand and over the next two decades went on expeditions in Africa, South America and right across Asia, notably the Himalaya. Many of these she led as a professional guide. For her big, ambitious climbs she would buy on to the permit of other expeditions, but organise the trip herself.

Work and recreation complemented each other. She worked for Australian Himalayan Expeditions as an adventure consultant and then 1993 joined World Expeditions as an adventure travel guide. The Australian-based company, for whom she led treks and climbs, has been rocked by the loss of an inspirational colleague and plans to place a plaque at Manaslu base camp in her memory.

Though she was almost inevitably nicknamed "Fearless", Fear was regarded as cautious and deliberative as a climber. In 1997 she led the first successful ascent by an Australian team of Makalu II (Kangchungtse) (7,678m) in Nepal, and the following year gained her first 8,000er, Cho Oyu (8,201m), followed by Shishapangma (8,046m) in 2002. Next year it was Everest (8,850m) from the north side. It was the first ascent of the world's highest peak by an Australian-born woman and resulted in her being named "Adventurer of the Year" by Australian Geographic. Then, in 2004, she summited Gasherbrum II (8,035m) in Pakistan. (Brigitte Muir had previously been hailed as the first Australian woman to the top of Everest; however, though holding citizenship, Muir was born in Belgium.)

Fear lived life to the full and as her reputation grew dedicated much time to talking to young people about the importance of "self-belief" and chasing one's dreams. She was a role model for would-be women climbers in a male-dominated activity, her slight frame testimony to her advice that "you don't have to built like a brick outhouse to be a good mountaineer". Strength-to-body ratio is the key.

Last year, Fear was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to mountaineering and the community. Like many climbers who regularly visit Nepal she developed an affection for its people and a concern for their evident poverty.

For the last 10 years she was a vigorous fund-raiser for the Fred Hollows Foundation, which is dedicated to combating avoidable blindness and runs eye clinics in remote regions, such as the Nepal hill country.

Stephen Goodwin