Antisocial climbers and other freaks on the peak

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The Independent Online

It's 50 years since the first ascent of Everest, and more and more people are climbing the mountain than ever. But who are they? What kind of obsessive people are driven to get to the top of the world's highest peak?

It's 50 years since the first ascent of Everest, and more and more people are climbing the mountain than ever. But who are they? What kind of obsessive people are driven to get to the top of the world's highest peak?

Well, they are a lot more varied than you might think. And to give you some idea of the cross-section of characters who, even now, are strung out across the snowy slopes, gasping for air, I am bringing you a selection of the more interesting teams involved.

A Super Saga holiday group

There are three things that a Saga holiday group wants, above all. Somewhere new. Somewhere quiet. And somewhere free from children and young parents. And that's what you find above 16,000 feet - peace, quiet and lovely views, all child-free. They need lots of porters with extra blankets, of course, not to mention a mobile loo, but they think it's all worth it.

The Brian Blessed Fan Club

There are two things people know about the actor Brian Blessed. One is his loud style of acting. The other is his love of climbing high places. No wonder that his fan club is following in his bootsteps up Everest. "The uncanny thing, following Brian up here," says top fan Nola Golightly, "is that sometimes at night from the tent you can hear his volcanic laughter echoing round the mountains. Winds and storms? I don't think so. It's the spirit of Brian that I can hear. The hills are alive with the sound of Brian Blessed. Makes you think, doesn't it?"

The people from Vodafone

"Everest is one of the last places on earth with no cellphone network," says Ernie Wright, who is heading Vodafone's push to the top. "There just aren't any mobile phone masts up there. Well, we're putting that right now. But it's hellish work. Not only is the cold unbearable, and the masts are hard to carry above 20,000 feet, but the Nepalese planning regulations are almost as bad as those in Britain... Hello? Hello? Damn, we seem to have lost you. Hello? Hello?"

Lord Lichfield and the 12 Most Beautiful Women in the World

"We're just here for fun," says Patrick Lichfield. "We might do a calendar shoot while we're at it. We might not. We might just have a party. I know one thing we'll not be doing, and that's trying to climb the mountain. Wonderful as a backdrop, hellish place to be. But the light is glorious. Whoops! Sorry about that, darling! I keep forgetting that when you open champagne at over 16,000 feet, the pressure makes it go up like a fountain."

The John Cleese Look-Alike Expedition

Many tall men with receding hair and small moustaches have led a miserable life through their resemblance to John Cleese. Their answer? To club together and share their suffering. Their latest wheeze? To go somewhere where no one else can see them and insist on doing silly walks, or saying: "Don't mention the war."

One look-alike said: "We had a nasty moment when one of our porters looked at us in amazement, and then said: 'Ho ho! And now for something complete different!' I'm afraid that we had to fire him. But now we're well up the mountain, away from humanity, things are much more peaceful."

What they don't know is that they may well bump into...

The Manuel-the-Waiter- from-Barcelona Lookalike Everest Expedition

No, not a gathering of men made miserable by their likeness to Manuel. They are, in fact, a charity walk organised by the small Berkshire village of Courtney Pine.

"It started out as a sponsored walk to Reading," admits the leader, George Amos, "but it got out of hand one night after a session at the pub, and the next day we found we had committed ourselves to climbing Everest, dressed as Manuel the waiter. Well, one tradition we're very proud of in English village life is that if we say we are going to do something very stupid for charity, we go ahead and do it."

We'll have lots more Everest expeditions for you tomorrow

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