In April last year, Olivia Newton-John completed a 21-day walk in China to raise money for cancer research. This inspiring doco tracks her emotional journey. Sunday, 3pm, Ten.
Autumn is the focus in the final episode of a riveting series about this great American wilderness. An early snowfall sees elk moving down from the mountains to find food in the valleys. But the wolves are waiting. Sunday, 7.30pm, ABC1. Susan Kurosawa
To my right was the deep abyss. I had no intention of going that way if I could help it. The top was a tangle of frayed ropes so I stepped gingerly over them and on to a broad snow slope. We were clear of the second step. Above lay the final hurdle, the summit pyramid.
We crouched and helped each other change oxygen bottles as Jamie joined us. The wind was still strong but a weak sun was shining now, the feeble warmth an added boost to morale. Ahead we could see a couple of figures picking their way over the jumble of rocks that marked the third step, and though most of the summit pyramid was clear, the very top was hidden from view. While Andrew helped Jamie with his oxygen, I led the way, looking around, determined to absorb the view. To my right, the slope dropped away steeply, to my left was the Kangshung face and another sheer drop.
We scrambled through the jumble of rocks that was the third step, drawing closer, but I still feared the weather would get the better of us and the wind prove too strong. I glanced behind to see that Karma and Tshering were closing on us. They had done well to catch up, but in truth were only a little quicker. With renewed vigour and momentum, our enlarged team pressed ahead. This time we let the Sherpas take the lead. The line veered to the right of the pyramid and seemingly away from the summit. Soon we were back on the north face of the mountain, traversing a narrow snow shelf. It was exhilarating, but we were horribly exposed. The drop to our right was more than 3km, all the way down to base camp. For a few minutes we were in the shade and, mercifully, in the lee of the wind.
The sudden quiet was unnerving and the gloom left me longing to be back in the sun. We picked our way cautiously, anxious to avoid any mistakes at this late stage.
Just a few metres away the line turned abruptly to the left and almost back on itself. Ahead rose a narrow but protected gully. I glanced at my altimeter and my heart sank. Still another 100m ascent to go; that meant more than an hour yet. Andrew was pulling ahead and moving as strongly as ever and I did my best to keep up. Only when we emerged from the narrow gully into the sun and wind did my mistake become clear.
There was the summit, barely two minutes away. Karma and Tshering were almost there. As I drew closer, I could see the top was actually an enormous snow cornice arching far over the Kangshung face. It looked perilous and no bigger than the roof of a small house. Half buried in the snow and whipping in the wind were the colourful remains of prayer flags.
Those last minutes were painless, the least tiring of the whole ascent. My altimeter had deceived me and the exhilaration of knowing we had made it outweighed any exhaustion.
I paused just 5m below the top to catch my breath. Buried in the snow at my feet was a Union Jack. Smiling at my good fortune, I prised it loose and held it aloft just as Andrew raised his camera to get a shot. It was a fortuitous moment and I could see Andrew had removed his mask and was beaming. I climbed the last steps and we hugged each other. I sat on the snow and choked back some tears, not of happiness, just sheer unadulterated relief. This is an edited extract from by Dominic Faulkner (Virgin Books/Random House, $35). Susan Kurosawa’s is on holiday.
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