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Climber who lost both legs reaches summit of Everest

A middle-aged man from New Zealand painfully hauled himself up the last few feet to the summit of Mount Everest this week. Nothing so unusual in that - after all, climbing Everest has become so popular that its slopes are often crowded, and more than 100 people have scaled the mountain already this year - but Mark Inglis is different: he has no legs.

Inglis, who lost both his legs to frostbite more than 20 years ago, is the first double amputee to reach the top of Everest. On Monday night he telephoned his wife, Anne, at their New Zealand home from the 29,035ft mountain to let her know he had made it safely.

During his climb, Inglis has been raising funds to provide artificial legs for disabled Tibetans who live under the shadow of Everest, and he made his own ascent on carbonfibre artificial legs specially adapted for climbing.

At one point, one of them snapped in a fall at 21,000 feet, and he had to carry out makeshift repairs on the mountainside before he could struggle back to his fellow climbers and rebuild it with spare parts.

He joins a small list of climbers who have overcome disabilities to conquer Everest, including a blind American and a Sherpa whose hands had been amputated and who used hooks to climb.

But Inglis insisted that was not what was important to him. "I'm not doing this to be the first double amputee," he told reporters before setting off. "If I am then it's the icing on the cake - but it's more about I've been climbing most of my life and Everest is the achievement."

Late on Monday night Mrs Inglis answered the phone to hear her husband's voice from Everest. "I'm at Camp 4. I made it. I did it," he said, before the line went dead.

"He's incredible," Mrs Inglis said yesterday. "He's dreamt of this all his life, probably. He's over the moon. They didn't expect to be this early, they thought maybe mid to late May, so Mark will be stoked. I imagine they'll be having a few whiskies."

New Zealand has long had a special relationship with Everest, and Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay was the first to scale the mountain, hailed his countryman's achievement.

"It's obviously a remarkable effort to actually climb Mount Everest with a couple of artificial legs," Sir Edmund told The Sydney Morning Herald. "And I have to admit that I admire his considerable effort."

Inglis lost his legs in his twenties, when he was working as a mountain rescue guide. He and a fellow climber, Phil Doole, were climbing New Zealand's Mount Cook and got caught in a blizzard. They were trapped in an ice cave for 14 days, and the effort to rescue them became a major news story.

When the rescuers finally got through, Inglis and Doole were barely alive, and both men's legs were so badly affected by frostbite they had to be amputated below the knee.

Inglis refused to let it stop him climbing - he describes the loss of his legs as a "very public hiccup to my climbing profession" on his website. He is also a winemaker, a professional ski guide, and a competitive cyclist - he won a silver medal in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.

During his Everest ascent he has been trying to raise funds for disabled people. "Disabled people are a rare sight in Tibet, the environment so harsh that few survive," he says on his website. "By creating an opportunity for them to effectively work by sourcing limbs we can give back to them their lives." He also hopes to raise money for landmine and polio victims in Cambodia.

His ascent comes amid the annual rush to conquer Everest before the monsoon sets in. Even as news of his ascent came in, another expedition announced that a Swede and a Norwegian had reached the summit. They are planning to ski down.