The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gritty amateur in chase of Everest dream

Chandigarh, June 3: Grit and guts got her to 7,700 metres. Then the lack of skill kicked in.

But despite fellow climbers’ scorn, more stinging than the icy winds, 34-year-old amateur mountaineer Sukhwinder Kaur refuses to abandon her 8,848-metre Everest dream.

Or, perhaps, Himalayan blunder.

“Not sufficient climbing experience to summit, no stamina, no speed, no skills, no balance, she is the worst climber on the mountain,” Duncan Chassell, an Australian member of the expedition, wrote on its website yesterday.

He said Sukhwinder, alias Sukhi ' looking to scale the world’s highest peak without oxygen ' had twice tried to climb above 7,700 metres. “But each time she crawls about 50 metres with her Sherpa, then back again over about two hours like the most pathetic climber ever.”

Is it the fear of a loss of face that keeps the carpenter’s daughter from Punjab from throwing in the towel' After all, the town of Muktsar raised Rs 7 lakh to send its home-grown daredevil on the journey.

Or is it pressure from her family, who are alleged to have told her to either return a conqueror or not at all' So thinks Jamie McGuinness, manager of the expedition, Project Himalaya. He fears for her life.

Chassell has appealed to Sukhi’s family to allow her to return.

Tej Kaur and a weeping Jagat Singh deny they ever pressured their daughter. “I just want to touch her and feel she is safe,” Singh said.

“She could have gone again, the people of Muktsar would have ensured the funds'. She is not just my daughter but of the town,” Kaur sobbed.

Sukhi today made it back to the advance base camp at 6,400 metres. She is “completely exhausted but she will recover”, says the website. Late night reports said she had abandoned the climb.

“Nobody from the expedition’s office in Kathmandu has contacted the family,” said Paramjit Kaur, Sukhi’s friend and partner in several adventures. “We tried to contact her on the satellite phone (No: 0088163154814) but couldn’t get through.”

Sukhi is no stranger to 7,700-plus heights, though. She had scaled India’s third-highest peak, Mount Kamet (7,756m), in 1998 and Sasar Kangri (7,672m) in 2002. With Paramjit, she had cycled to Kashmir’s Khardungla Pass in 2000 and again on a bike.

“All of a sudden, we are told she was a bad climber when till May 28 her climb was being described as ‘graceful’,” Paramjit said. “I have no idea what sort of gear she has been provided with.”

Gursewak Singh Preet, a relative, is equally puzzled. “Sukhi always revelled in doing things that others kept away from. The website said yesterday she did very well considering it was her first attempt at 8,000m. It also said the weather was one of the worst on record for the Everest.”

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