Mountaineer's spectacular achievement goes unnoticed: Last month Jonathan Pratt became the first Briton to climb K2 and survive. But no one paid any attention, writes Will Bennett

THE TRIUMPH of Rebecca Stephens, who in May became the first British woman to reach the top of Mount Everest, received massive media coverage. Yet the spectacular achievement of Jonathan Pratt has been virtually ignored.

While Miss Stephens returned to shake hands with the Prime Minister and face dozens of cameras at a press conference, Mr Pratt went off alone to stay with friends in India after becoming the first Briton to climb K2 and survive.

K2 is the world's second highest mountain, 28,250ft (8,828m) high and just 800ft (250m) lower than Everest. It is far harder to climb and the appalling weather around it has earned it the nickname 'the pyramid of storms'.

In September, Mr Pratt, 34, from Shenfield, Essex, succeeded where many have failed and some have died. He and Dan Mazur, 32, an American who lives in Kent, made it to the top without oxygen and following the difficult west ridge route.

The only previous Britons to scale K2, in the Karakoram range on the Chinese-Pakistani border, were Alan Rouse and Julie Tullis, who died on the way down in 1986.

That tragedy attracted as much publicity as Miss Stephens' success. Mr Pratt's climb received two brief mentions in national newspapers and is regarded with scepticism by some members of the British mountaineering establishment. Some of the latter privately question whether he really got to the top.

Those who know the wiry, tough and ferociously determined mining engineer have no doubt that he did. He is uninterested in glory and lives for climbing.

Mr Mazur, back in England, said yesterday: 'We are not interested in seeing our names in lights, we just like to climb. The lack of publicity has been largely due to the fact that we are climbers rather than promoters.

'Obviously it is difficult to prove that we got to the summit. Mostly you do this by giving accounts of the route to those who have already been there. We took some photographs but it was night when we got to the top.'

The expedition, which included three other Britons - Jonathan Wakefield, Dr Andrew Collins and Andy Mayers - failed to raise any sponsorship and each member had to share the costs. At one stage they had to beg food from other mountaineers. By comparison, the Karakoram 8000 Project, an all-British expedition which was on K2 at the same time but failed to get to the summit, had two sponsors and the support of the British Mountaineering Council.

Public relations officers kept the press informed about Karakoram 8000's progress and gave out the telephone number for the base camp. All the Mazur-Pratt team had was a network of worried families and friends.

K2 can never compete with Everest for publicity, although far fewer people have climbed it. Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Everest at the time of the 1953 coronation it has been regarded as almost part of the nation's heritage.

But K2 is a climber's mountain, natural territory for an outsider such as Jonathan Pratt. He is unlikely to write a book or give lectures about the ascent. At the moment he is planning his next expedition to Nepal.

(Photograph omitted)

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