Sneeze brings mountaineer down to earth

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A sneeze triggered by a bit too much flour on a chapatti has probably put paid to Yorkshireman Alan Hinkes' record-breaking bid to climb the world's highest mountains. Hinkes, 43, yesterday waited in vain to be helicoptered from base camp beneath 26,660 ft Nanga Parbat in Pakistan after five days in excruciating pain.

In the wonderfully daft world that is mountaineering, "Hinksey" (right) set himself the goal of becoming the first Briton to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-metre peaks. He has already ticked seven of them and, backed by pounds 100,000 of sponsorship from the Tyneside equipment manufacturer Berghaus, planned to complete the set by May 1998.

To some big mountain contemporaries it had seemed an absurdly optimistic timetable. Success on any Himalayan giant has a strong element of the lottery, with storm, avalanche and the oxygen-rare air being the most notorious killers.

But Hinkes was laid low by none of these. And although a Berghaus press release on Monday spoke of a "serious back injury" and Hinkes being lucky to escape with his life on "the Killer Mountain", the man himself yesterday told a less heroic tale.

"It was a chapatti last Friday that was my downfall. I'd strained my back a few days earlier carrying a load of about 40kg but it was no big problem. Then the flour for our evening meal made me sneeze and I just collapsed in the ground in agony and screaming," he told The Independent by satellite phone.

Hinkes was told by doctors he had trapped a nerve or slipped a disc. Stephen Goodwin