Hong Kong-based mountaineer scales Everest and Lhotse peaks within 24 hours

Paul Niel conquers Everest and Lhotse within a day but his feat is shadowed by the death of a fellow climber

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 10:28am

Sixty years to the day since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest, a Hong Kong-based mountaineer has repeated the feat but it was overshadowed by tragedy.

Austrian-born Paul Niel and his team set off on a nine-week long expedition to scale the highest mountain in the world.

A week ago he successfully reached the top of the 8,848-metre Everest and just for good measure he then scaled the nearby Lhotse, which is the world's fourth tallest mountain at 8,516 metres.

Niel's achievements do not end here though as he also became only the ninth person to reach the summit of both Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours.

However, the first attempt on the summit on May 17 almost ended in disaster - a surprise storm during the night generated strong winds and low temperatures. Niel turned back after getting more than half way to the summit. Several other climbers who continued lost fingers and toes to frostbite.

One of the Sherpas died after suffering a heart attack.

While on the descent from Lhotse a Taiwanese climber died from a cerebral oedema.

Niel gave first aid and helped to temporarily stabilise the climber, but several attempts by a helicopter to rescue the man failed because of the bad weather. By the time Sherpas reached the 58-year- old to move him down the mountain, he had died.

"He died in my sleeping bag. At least he was not alone," Niel said. "Emotionally these were the most exhausting days of my life. I feel great about being on the summit of Everest, but even greater about still having my health."

On May 29, 1953, New Zealander Hillary and Sherpa Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest.

"I was coming up the Khumbu glacier and continually thinking how it was for them," Niel, 34, said. "Hilary's climbing colleagues turned around at one point as they thought a ridge and rock step was not climbable - Hillary and Tenzing moved on and scaled it."

Niel's expedition is part of a larger campaign he embarked on more than seven years ago - to climb the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. He has scaled five of them but Everest was his biggest challenge yet.

In 2005, Niel set off with a friend on his "seven-seven" mission. Over the years, as work permitted, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Elbrus (Europe), Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania), Aconcagua (South America) and Mount Vinson (Antarctica).

In March he decided to leave his job at Goldman Sachs to continue his challenge. After conquering Everest, all that's left is Denali in Alaska, the tallest peak in North America. He is also raising money for local charity Enlighten - Action for Epilepsy.