Mark Inglis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am

'I get up in the early morning and go to our little community gym in town. Then I come home and do e-mails; I have children from all around the world writing to me - amputees. Then I'll either skip out my back door to Mount Dunblane, take the two golden retrievers and just climb, or leap onto my mountain bike. Then I come back and do more e-mails. In mid-morning, Anne, my wife, and I go out to our local coffee shop to have coffee, read the papers and catch up with all our friends in the village.

We live 130km inland from Christchurch, in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand. I commute two or three times a week to the airport, jump on a plane and go somewhere in New Zealand or Australia to give a motivational talk to a conference, a corporate group or a school charity then escape back home again. Where we live is a real place of rejuvenation. There are hot springs, thermal pools on the side of a mountain; it's the sort of place where you turn your radio off, sit back and soak up the environment.

In the time leading up to Christmas, I was still doing my wine consulting. It involves a trip up to Melbourne, to where the vineyards are, once a week or so. I always think we shouldn't be called 'consultants'. We should be called 'insultants' because, most of the time, you are telling people what to do. With wine, you go through fads: I'll drink rieslings for six months and then pinot noir for four months. If I've just done a big barrel tasting, by the time I've tasted all 8,000 barrels of cabernet I don't want to see another cabernet sauvignon for months on end.

One of my passions is food and cooking. I spend more time cooking than I do winemaking. Every winemaker is a frustrated chef and we are envious of chefs because they get to do it every day. At home, my way of rejuvenating is to cook - every style of food.

I probably don't spend enough time on health and fitness. It is really tough, especially when you're travelling. When you're a double amputee [Inglis lost both legs below the knee to frostbite in a mountaineering accident in 1982] training takes about three times longer than it does if you are an able-bodied person. As well as training yourself physiologically, you need to train your stumps. You are always at the limit of your sockets and your stumps and it just stretches the whole [process] out.

One of the first things Anne and I did this year was to create a charity called Limbs4All, an international organisation based in New Zealand. It is a joint venture with Wayne 'Cowboy' Alexander, who was my leg engineer on the Everest expedition last year. Our great vision is that somewhere out there is a design for the ultimate leg - the leg that can be made anywhere, will do everything and only cost a few dollars. The whole idea is to be able to pass on some of the generosity people offered me after the Everest trip to so many deserving people in Cambodia and Nepal, such as Teelay, the Sherpa who I got legs for.

I first met Teelay, a double amputee Sherpa, in 2004, after I'd just climbed Cho Oyu in the Himalayas. I realised how tough a life he'd had and how similar his and my life were, except I had the opportunity of having [prosthetic] legs and he didn't.

You can't just send legs to people; they are made exactly for your stump, which is unique. I measured Teelay up but that's not the same as making a cast of the stumps. I sent him legs in 2005 but, because there was no one there who could fit them, we had to wait until I was back last year for the Everest expedition. So at Base Camp in April, we brought Teelay up and I was able to engineer a fitting for his legs. It was difficult to do; the sockets are made out of hard carbon fibre and we had to pack it out with bits of leather and glue - materials that Teelay could find locally. It was amazing. For the amount of effort and resources you put in, you totally transform someone's life - he's had 20 years of walking around on his knees. I'll be going back in October to help him refit the legs.

Cambodia Trust [a British-based charity, the New Zealand branch of which he is a patron] is a great organisation because, instead of just sending legs to people, they've created the School of Prosthetics. They work on the principle that you don't give the man a fish, but give him a fishing rod and teach him to fish. The worse thing you can do is help someone or a community only once. Giving someone a leg once just isn't sustainable; you have to go back and you have to put your hand out to help for the long haul.

I only knew Discovery was filming our Everest exped-ition two months before I went - I had been planning this trip for years. I was lucky to have laryngitis, so when the camera came near me, I was like [some hoarse gibberish and laughter]. The fact is that I only had laryngitis for two days and the rest of the time I just faked it. If you are a camera hog, you're not going to make it. On Everest you need to focus on climbing.

Climbing down was much harder than climbing up.

I worked out a system to get down as fast as I could, knowing that each minute I lost was a black mark against my survivability. The combination of being a mountaineer and an amputee puts you in a different frame of mind to a lot of people.

Everest Rescue Trust [for which he is a goodwill ambassador] grew out of the frustration that 11 people died on Everest last season because they couldn't be rescued. We have to find a way to fix that. The big thing is to create a helicopter that can work in a low-pressure atmosphere. Normal helicopters can't lift a load above about 6,500 metres. Trevor and Glenda Rogers - the people who created the Trust - believe they can build a helicopter able to lift about 100kg off the summit of Everest. It's going to take a huge amount of resources, it's a US$15 million dollar project, I believe. If we can create a remote-control helicopter, we take the risk to a rescuer out of the equation. That won't transform just Everest; it will transform search and rescue in the world.

At the end of the day, [I enjoy] a great glass of wine - me cooking in the kitchen, Anne reading by the fire. As Anne says, we've been married 25 years and the strength of our marriage is that I've only been home for 12 of those [laughs]. She is a fantastic lady. She married a mountaineer and it's something we've all lived with and flourished with, I hope. Our three children all have a passion for life and that's the only thing you can ask of your kids.'

Everest: Beyond the Limit is being aired on Discovery Channel, Tuesdays at 10pm.