Monday, July 24, 2006

Death Zone

Another climber gone ...

The body of one of Latin America's best known climbers, Jose Antonio Delgado, has been found on Mount Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, rescuers say.

Delgado had been missing for some time. The rescuers said they had buried him on the mountain after consulting with his family.

Delgado was the first Venezuelan to climb Mount Everest, the world's highest peak.

I forgot to blog about this court case which finished last week.

Three men will not face trial for manslaughter over the death of a City trader on Mount Everest, a judge ruled.

In 1999 Michael Matthews, 22, was the youngest Briton to reach the summit but disappeared on the descent.

A private prosecution brought by his father against three men working for the tour company alleged their negligence contributed to his death.

But Judge Jeffrey Rivlin QC dismissed the case, saying there was no evidence anyone had acted with gross negligence.

Lawyers for the three men, Jonathan Tinker, 47, from York, Henry Todd, 61, from Edinburgh, and Michael Smith, 44, who lives in Switzerland, had applied to Southwark Crown Court to have the case thrown out.

Mr Matthews' dad wasn't happy. He thought his son had been supplied with dodgy oxygen.

Henry Todd ? That name rang a bell, taking me all the way back to the mid-70s, when alternative types consumed avidly the products created by Todd, Richard Kemp and Christine Bott, who ran the world's largest LSD production line.

Mr Todd, a hairy-bottomed buccaneering type, headed for Nepal on his release from prison - he's been there off and on ever since, running expeditions. In another age he'd probably have been a terrific Political Agent on the North-West Frontier or similar - one of the kind who was 'half a Pathan himself'.

Henry Barclay Todd — Scotsman, ex-con, entrepreneur — is in the business of solving problems. Want to climb Mount Everest but don't have the Benjamins ? Henry can solve that. Need oxygen tanks on the cheap ? Henry's your man. What's the weather forecast for 27,000 feet ? Check with Henry. Need to share a tent at Camp II ? Henry !

Fifty-six-year-old Todd is the proprietor of Himalayan Guides, an Edinburgh-based expedition service that specializes in the highly affordable summit trip. If you want to climb Everest with legends like Ed Viesturs and Pete Athans, you'll pony up at least $50,000 to a guide service like Adventure Consultants (Guy Cotter's Wanaka, New Zealand–based outfit) or Alpine Ascents International (Todd Burleson's Seattle operation). But if you can haul your own carcass up the Hillary Step and are willing to subsist on rice and lentil soup, you can ride on Henry's ticket for the low, low price of $29,000. "Adventure Consultants and Alpine Ascents are like the Cadillacs of Everest," says John Leonard, a 26-year-old Mount Rainier wilderness ranger who made his first attempt on Everestwith Todd last spring. "Henry's the vintage Chevy Astrovan. You've got a whole bunch of people, and the ride's a little bumpy, but if you hold on you'll get there."

He's not everyone's cup of tea, to put it mildly. Even more friendly reporters have their doubts.

Meanwhile, Todd's business has continued apace. A few weeks after Nepal banned him, he announced an expedition to Pakistan's K2 in 2002. His minimum requirement: having summited two 8,000-meter peaks. The book closed on 12 clients in less than a week. Which is to say, there is one law that Henry Todd has always respected: the law of supply and demand. "I have two words to say about Henry Todd," an American Everest-expedition leader told me. "Caveat emptor."

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