Focus: Annabelle Bond - Why I am so lucky to be alive

She has climbed the highest mountains on seven continents faster than any woman before. Now, in exclusive extracts from her diary, this new British heroine tells us what it was really like - from the pain of frostbite and the shock of seeing two fellow climbers die, to the thrill of reaching the final peak. And in a frank interview with Julia Stuart, she reveals the personal struggles with cancer that drove her on
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The Independent Online

Annabelle Bond is a highly polished blonde who looks at home sitting in a café in Sloane Square. Nobody can see that she has lost all feeling in her big toes - as a result of the frostbite she got while climbing the highest mountains on seven continents.

Annabelle Bond is a highly polished blonde who looks at home sitting in a café in Sloane Square. Nobody can see that she has lost all feeling in her big toes - as a result of the frostbite she got while climbing the highest mountains on seven continents.

She achieved this remarkable feat in 360 days, faster than any woman had managed before. And she knows she is lucky to be alive, in more ways than one. During her final descent she had to avert her eyes from the bodies of two men, twins she had just met on the mountain, who had plunged to their deaths.

A month before climbing the first of her seven peaks, Mount Everest, the 35-year-old former estate agent from west London had to have a tumour removed from her uterus. "I had three days of not knowing whether it was malignant," she says. "I made two decisions then: firstly, that I would go ahead with the climb whatever the result; and secondly, that I would do whatever I could to let women know that this could happen to them. I am an athlete; I was fit and young, and yet here I was, having a scare."

She had already decided to dedicate her ascent of Everest to the memory of her friend Lone vagn-Jensen. "Lone had died several months before as a result of ovarian cancer. Her husband had started the Eve Appeal, which campaigns to make more women aware that early detection can save their lives."

Ms Bond had been invited to climb Everest by a banker her mother met. She had some experience of climbing, and of mountain marathons, but "no one expected me to get to the top, which was nice because you have nothing to prove and you can deal with your fears".

Having conquered Everest she vowed to take up the Seven Summit challenge in the name of her friend. "I thought, 'Lone, I will do it for you!'" At that stage the women's record was two years and 42 days. However, halfway through Ms Bond's attempt, the British woman Jo Gambi finished in a year and 38 days.

While Annabelle's father, Sir John Bond, the head of HSBC, gave her emotional support, he refused to cover any of the cost. "My dad is really, really tough with me," she says.

She had five weeks to raise the bulk of the sponsorship - around £100,000 in the end - before getting to Russia in time for the right climbing conditions. "I've never worked so hard on anything in my life."

The trials she faced are described, graphically, in the diary she emailed home by satellite phone. "On Everest," she says now, "it was six weeks of living on a moving glacier at 5,600 metres with no loo or shower. It's minus 40 at night and you can't get out to go to the loo."

She had to get used to having no privacy. "The first thing I would say about climbing as a girl is you have got to lose your inhibitions."

Chanel lipstick was a way of retaining her femininity - "you have to wear something on your lips to stop them chapping so it might as well be coloured" - while coping with unwashed hair but also being filmed for a documentary. "Climbing is a predominately male sport. You have to be one of the boys. I just wanted to be sure that even though I was keeping up with them I was still a girl."

Ms Bond is currently living with her parents in Kensington. Her epic trip has raised more than £800,000 for the Eve Appeal so far, with more to come. She will go on campaigning, and there are plans for a book and a career as a motivational speaker.

"Climbing the Seven Summits within a year has proved that It girls can get out there and do hard-core cool things," she says. "I never thought in a million years that I would do it - then suddenly I was on number five."

'When we reached the final summit I was so blown away, I could not speak'

Annabelle Bond had one more mountain to climb to achieve her record-breaking goal. She began the ascent of Denali in Alaska in late April, with her friends Guy and Greg, and their fellow guides Mark, Clark and Brent. This is her mountain diary.

7 May

It was clear and sunny when I emerged, puffy-eyed and greasy-haired as usual, from my tent. I saw a big plume of snow blowing off the summit ridge. Clark said that it would be "nuking it up there", so we were staying put at 14,200ft again today. This is where the importance of patience and safety in the mountains prevails over a desire to achieve your goal, no matter what. Chatted to Jerry Humphrey, who was going to go for the summit with his 54-year-old twin brother Terry via the same route as us. Jerry had climbed Denali before and was planning to go to Everest next year. His son was also on the mountain, going up a different way. We crawled into our sleeping bags, ready for another night of 10 hours' sleep - I love it, as I'm almost an insomniac when I'm not up on the mountains.

8 May

We were on the way up by 11am. My achilles tendon throbbed from walking like a duck on the thick blue ice, and my arms were so tired I could hardly haul myself up the fixed lines. I'm really not very good with heights. The ridge was really exposed, and we were often walking on something less than a foot wide with thousands of feet drops either side. You never knew if you would drag your rope team with you if you fell. It was scary carrying such a huge pack, with the sharp gusts of wind that kept occurring, wondering whether you would get caught off-balance. After about five hours, we arrived at high camp at around 17,200ft. We spent ages building snow walls, pitching the tents and settling in. It felt like we were high up now.

9 May

We sleep with everything in our sleeping bags so it does not freeze: in mine I have boot liners, two water bottles, creams, my camera, my down clothes, my balaclavas and my medical kit. Somehow I squeeze in there, too. It is seriously uncomfortable.

When we got going I slipped, and was suddenly hurtling down the icy slope. It is amazing how much speed you pick up. I was caught by our rope team. I screamed like mad as I went; they probably heard me in Anchorage, I was so scared. Once I knew I was safe, I pulled myself together. Soon we were traversing high across the Denali Pass, edging sideways frontpointing (where the toe of your crampons is sticking into the ice). After about three hours it was a full-on white-out, so we decided to return to high camp. As I tried to sleep that night, the wind ripping against the tent, I was convinced that I had missed my chance to climb Denali.

10 May

Despite the cold it was sunny and clear with a light wind. When I asked Clark if I could take a breather, he told me to take a Gu energy shot immediately. He wasn't comfortable with the clouds forming above the summit and said unless I got moving faster he was going to turn me around. I felt panic. I took two and a half power gels, and soon my lethargy had passed. As I stepped up on to the summit ridge, the view took my breath away. It was panoramic and stretched out as far as the eye could see, filled with snowy mountains and glaciers. It was so beautiful, I had tears in my eyes. The vertical drop on the other side of the ridge was thousands of feet, so I tried to look outwards, as opposed to straight down.

Mark took the lead so he could film me arriving on the summit of Denali. I did so at 4.30pm, and was so blown away that I had done it, I couldn't even speak for the camera. I was very emotional, then got on to doing all my sponsors' photos holding their flags. We were all hugging on the top. We spent about an hour there. Clark said we were unbelievably lucky with the conditions.

On the long descent we came across Jerry, who told us his brother Terry was going very slowly. He hadn't reached the summit of Denali before, so Jerry wanted him to do it. I didn't really think about how late it was (about 7pm) nor whether it was foolish for someone so apparently tired to continue on up at this time of day. Nor did I think it my place to offer advice to someone who didn't need a guide (I do!) so we just chatted and left it at that.

11 May

We woke up at 8.30am. Clark wanted to go and check on Jerry and Terry's camp to make sure they got back OK last night. The next thing we knew he was back wanting water, a sleeping bag and some Gu. He was on the walkie-talkie with the rangers down at 14,200ft sounding urgent and stressed. Mark left camp with Clark straightaway.

We were all drooling at the prospect of eating Clark's bagel, but none of us had the guts to do it. Then we heard the news. I was shell-shocked. Jerry and Terry had slipped on the Denali Pass and fallen to their deaths some 1,500ft below, almost adjacent to our camp. They were lying within a metre of each other, despite being unroped. This led Clark to believe that one of them had knocked the other one off the crevasse at the top of the pass.

I cannot tell you how shocked and sad I was. My immediate thoughts were of poor Jeremy, Jerry's son, who was down at the 14,200ft camp. I really had trouble with the notion that the guy I had chatted to a few hours earlier was now lying at the bottom of the glacier adjacent to our camp. It was a wake-up call to the dangers of mountain climbing, especially when very tired.

While Clark was busy on the radio trying to help the rangers, we started packing up camp and preparing to walk down. We would collect our loads from two camps on the way down, get reunited with our sleds then just push on down to base camp. There was some weather reportedly coming in and we were going to try and get an 8am flight from base camp to Talkeetna before we got stuck in a five-day storm. This 10,000ft vertical descent, given that we were all still tired from summit day yesterday, would definitely not be easy.

On the knife-edged ridge, Greg and I were both nervous. A strong wind was constantly blowing us off balance. It was laboriously slow as we made our way down. I really was shaken up by the incident, I have to confess.

My toes were in agony: I was about to lose what few I had left after climbing Aconcagua. Greg had a huge blister on his toe. Brent thought his feet needed medical attention. Guy had a bad knee. Despite all our aches and pains, it was so beautiful walking down at night. I was transfixed by the beauty of Alaska. I was anxious to keep going as I felt if I stopped for too long I would never get started again. When we got to base camp I was hallucinating with fatigue. It was 3am. I could hardly stand up.

As we ate pancakes for breakfast next morning I thought we would be there for at least five days. Then, music to my ears, I heard planes coming in. We had 20 minutes to get ready. An hour later we were in Talkeetna and it was boiling hot. Everyone at the hotel was talking about the terrible accident of Jerry and Terry. I think there have only been four deaths on Denali since 1996, so this was big news.

As we had a huge lunch of pizza, salad and anything we could get our hands on, I could hardly believe what we had all done. How can I summarise such an incredible year? I have been through every conceivable emotion and much physical discomfort, seen places I had only fantasised about, and - with a combination of luck and determination - fulfilled my wildest dreams.


The mountains climbed by Annabelle Bond were:

Mount Everest, Nepal, 29,029ft

Mount Elbrus, Russia, 18,481ft

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 19,339ft

Mount Kosciusko, Australia, 7,310ft

Vinson Massif, Antarctica, 16,067ft

Mount Aconcagua, Argentina, 22,840ft

Mount Denali, Alaska, 20,320ft