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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Down Everest on his knees
By Christopher Sleight
BBC News Online

A British climber's adventure of a lifetime turned into an epic struggle for survival when he broke his leg just metres short of conquering Everest.

Peter Madew helping Conan Harrod crawl along the ridge
He was forced to crawl down to his rescuers
Conan Harrod had long dreamed of reaching the summit of the world's highest mountain - and looked set to make that dream a reality when he set off on a sponsored climb last month.

But just 250 m (820 feet) shy of the summit, the 34-year-old fell and badly smashed his left leg. Few survive accidents at that altitude.

"I realised I was going to be dead in a few hours and I thought there was nothing I could do about it," says the computer engineer, now back home in Cheadle, Cheshire.

The accident happened when an American climber fell heavily onto a fixed rope he was sharing with Mr Harrod, causing the Briton to catapult off a narrow ledge.

The American helped him back onto the ridge but then abandoned him. But two other mountaineers on the expedition organised by Cumbria-based Adventure Peaks, Peter Madew and Walid Abuhaidar, helped him begin an agonising two-day crawl down the mountain.

Everest, with the route taken by Conan Harrod
The red line marks the route taken on the less-frequented north face
Both men had abandoned their summit bids to help their stricken partner. Mr Harrod said there was no question his team-mates would have carried on, even though they were within sight of the top.

"We'd had quite a good discussion about how we would have reacted if someone had an accident. We all said that there was no way we'd continue - we'd immediately try and get the other person down," he told BBC News Online.

"We just wouldn't be able to live with ourselves if we abandoned anybody in that situation."

Altitude sickness

Mr Harrod, who was climbing the mountain to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, dragged his useless left leg for more than a mile over steep rocky ground. The pain sometimes became unbearable.

"I was having to pause for a couple of minutes every time I knocked my leg to allow the throbbing to ease."

I got so close and I felt so strong - there's a possibility I'll try again
Conan Harrod

He even had to crawl over the body of a dead climber who had frozen to death on the mountain a few years ago.

"I could see the clothing and the pale face of the climber - he still had his crampons on. It was quite daunting."

Then Mr Madew began to suffer from the altitude and had to be persuaded to go on ahead, leaving Mr Harrod and Mr Abuhaidar to spend the night at 8,200 m (26,903 ft) before continuing their descent the following day.

Late on the second day of his slide to safety, Mr Harrod was met by members of a Royal Navy expedition who spent 15 hours lowering him down the remaining 1,200 m (3,937 ft) of the north ridge.

The injured Briton praises the "incredible sacrifice" of the many people who helped him, but is still angry that the American mountaineer and his sherpa left him after the accident.

"There was no discussion - they just disappeared. It was ridiculous - they caused the accident and even if it was an accident, they should have stuck with me."

Conan Harrod traversing fixed ropes before the accident
Just minutes before the accident
The American was planning to set a high altitude golf record on the expedition, and was spotted by members of the Royal Navy team the day after the accident, teeing off on the North Col.

"He obviously had quite a bit of strength left, so there's no reason why he couldn't have hung around for several hours at least," says Mr Harrod.

The exhausted climber was finally treated by doctors at Advanced Base Camp, but still had to endure a 17-hour overnight journey on a stretcher and a bumpy 15-hour truck ride before he reached Kathmandu hospital.

Back for more

But Mr Harrod says he intends to carry on climbing - and maybe even return to Everest.

Conan Harrod the day before the accident
Conan the day before the accident
"I got so close and I felt so strong, 250 m away from the top of the highest mountain in the world. It'll probably be a few years, but there's a possibility I'll try Everest again."

And he plans to continue raising funds for Motor Neurone Disease sufferers, for that was the illness his father died from 15 years ago.

"[After the accident] I thought it wasn't going to be long before I'd see him again - it was quite an upsetting experience. But I'm sure he'll be quite proud that I got down".

Climber breaks leg on Everest
23 May 03  |  England

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