Ain't no mountain high enough

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2005, 12:00am

Most people imagine that standing on top of the world and looking down from the highest summit, Mount Everest, must be a thrilling experience.

But mountaineer Conrad Anker, who has been there, felt something less than exhilaration at the moment of his greatest triumph.

'I had a serious headache when I reached the summit. I felt bad physically and was short of breath,' said Anker, who made it to the world's highest point in 1999.

'Of course, I felt pretty good about the experience when I was looking back afterwards - that I could make it to the summit and was generally healthy.'

This year marks the sixth anniversary not only of Anker conquering Everest but also discovering the remains of George Mallory, a legendary Everest climber of the 1920s who was lost attempting to reach the summit. In 1924, Mallory and partner Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine disappeared after last being seen 'moving expeditiously' towards the summit.

Anker was part of a search team who spent 60 days on an expedition to look for the remains of Mallory in 1999, eventually making the discovery on May 1, at around 27,000 feet up the North Face. The body was remarkably well preserved, but offered no evidence that Mallory had made it to the summit before his death.

'It was a humbling moment seeing a great explorer who had perished in the Himalayas. I was awestruck by Mount Everest,' Anker said.

Anker was in town for two days this week to share his mountain-climbing experience with local enthusiasts. Even though he has scaled the highest mountain in the world, he said he would still love to conquer the tallest 'mountain' in Hong Kong, the 957-metre Tai Mo Shan.

'Climbing up a 1,000-metre mountain is good practice. You don't always go for a tall one. To me every mountain is beautiful, regardless of their altitude. I can always have fun climbing mountains,' he said.

To the local mountaineers, who are deprived of awe-inspiring mountains, Anker said they should still make use of the local landscape.

'I guess it's the same for the local mountaineers,' Anker said. 'They should practise as much as they can here. Or if they can afford it, to try some harder ones in Nepal or India, that will be even better practice.'

Vick Lee Kit-han, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Mountaineering Union, said that although Hong Kong had produced mountaineers who had also reached the top of Everest, the visit of a world-famous climber like Anker would draw even more people to the activity.

'His sharing about his previous journeys would definitely arouse people's interest in mountaineering,' she said.

Having already scaled peaks in Alaska, Antarctica and the Himalayas, Anker said his next target would be to climb in Xichuan's Five River Regions.

'I am still planning the date. It will probably be two or three years from now. The area is very beautiful and close to western Tibet,' he said.

Anker is always on the move and his quest for new challenges is unstoppable. He said that although there were times where he lost patience and felt despair in the mountains, his spirit was always sustained by the famous survival story of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton and his team were trapped in Antarctica while attempting to become the first to traverse the south-polar continent when their ship, the Endurance, was destroyed.

After being stranded for months, Shackleton and five others set off to sea in smaller boats and returned 105 days later, in August 1916, with help to rescue their 22 colleagues left behind.

'The story is close to my heart and I recall it whenever I find myself in harsh or inconvenient circumstances,' Anker said.