ARM­CHAIR TRAV­ELLER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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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