A near-death experience in the Himalayas has forced the climber to come to terms with his own mortality

The year was 1992 when I embarked upon my 13th expedition to the Himalayas. The expedition lasted seven weeks. We did various successful ascents in the Panch Chuli range and still had 10 days spare at the end of our planned itinerary. So Harish Kapadia, a wonderfully enthusiastic, dynamic climber, said, "Well, why don't we go and look in the other valley."

This was the valley that I had been interested in all along. So in a scaled-down team of five climbers we set off with minimal supplies and, in good old-fashioned explorer's style, started hacking our way through bamboo and vines. The setting was quite surreal, because most of the time the place was under cloud cover. We occasionally got a glimpse of the valley below us and we did have sketchy maps, but basically couldn't see where we were heading.

To get on to the mountain we had to weave our way in an improbable line through chaotic ice fields and crevices. It took us two rather tiring days to make final camp, then four of us went on ahead to the summit while Chris Bonnington stayed behind. We set off at three in the morning and faced some fairly arduous climbing. Consequently we did not make the summit until three in the afternoon.

Bearing in mind that we had a bus to catch in three days, we decided to come straight down. The four of us made a very slow and painstaking descent and quite quickly darkness fell. At about 2am Chris, who was looking out for us at top camp, said that he spotted the lights from our head torches approaching. He followed our path down the mountain when suddenly he saw one of the lights plummet about 300 feet and heard the sound of metal on rock and then the soft thudding of a body hitting the mountain. I experienced every climber's nightmare - the pin had come out of my anchor and I had fallen.

I don't remember much except the strangely slow realisation that I was going to die. A sharp stab of fear and then, oddly, a feeling of regret. And then the appalling, battering violence of hitting the rock and wondering how much longer it could possibly last.

I don't know how much later I came to, but I remember being very surprised I did so at all. I was at the top of a large ice field and should have fallen another 1,000 feet, but my ropes had attached themselves to something.

For a long time I just lay there and then started to inspect the parts, to see what the damage was. I called out feebly to the others and eventually made contact. I think they were quite surprised to find that the weight on the end of the ropes was not a stiff. I shouted melodramatically that I had severed an artery, as there was rather a mess of blood on the snow, but miraculously I had just broken my legs.

I'm not sure how long it took the others to get to me but it took a long, hard day's work to lower me down the ice field. We camped at the bottom for a further four days while Bonnington made it down to send up an Indian air force helicopter, which made an incredibly courageous landing in order to get me out.

In the meantime I had remained strangely blase at the possibility of getting gangrene. I just thought, "I'll get through this." But if it hadn't been for the helicopter I probably wouldn't have.

I still go on expeditions but I am more aware of my own mortality. I am also profoundly aware of the strength, courage and loyalty that human beings can show one another. I think that climbers are people who have to accept their own mortality. And that is something that is far less frightening for me now.

Stephen Venables's book about his experiences in the Himalayas, `A Slender Thread', will be published 6 January 2000 (Hutchinson, pounds 17.99).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice