Sunday, July 30, 2006
Scotland on Sunday
by SHAUN MILNE
THE teenage son of the female climber who died while scaling the world’s second-highest peak has announced plans to tackle the Eiger.
Tom Ballard, who was just six when his mother Alison Hargreaves was killed on the slopes of K2 in 1995, aims to become the youngest person to climb the treacherous north face of the notorious Swiss mountain early next year.
The 17-year-old from Fort William intends to follow in the footsteps of his famous mother, who became an inspiration to women for combining her role as a mother with a top-class sportswoman.
She was three months pregnant with Tom when she first climbed the Eiger herself.
The 13,000ft Alpine peak has so far claimed the lives of 50 climbers since 1935. But with the support of the BBC, which is believed to be paying around £100,000 to film the venture, Ballard will attempt the peak in January or February.
Tom’s father Jim, Alison’s former husband, said: “Tom wants to be a professional climber like his mother. He has never wanted to do anything else but climb.
“It is Tom’s decision to attempt to climb the Eiger and he wants to do it in a specific route.
“He is a young boy with a famous mother and wants to climb one of the most notorious mountains in the world, but I am anxious that no one puts pressure on him.”
The plan is to scale the north face of the Eiger in an attempt made more difficult by climbing solo, as his mother did on her most famous expeditions.
But Jim said: “The conditions have to be right, we want it settled cold. We don’t want fresh snow, but we can’t do anything about the weather.
“There is a golden opportunity to deliver an incredibly poignant story of an adventure.”
Hargreaves was the first woman to reach the top of Everest alone and without oxygen.
Derbyshire-born, she had always wanted to climb from an early age and at 18 ran away from home to live with Jim Ballard, who was 16 years her senior.
Eight years later she married. But in August 1995, her attempt at K2, also in the Himalayas, was to prove her last as she and six others perished.
They had made it to the summit, safely lured there by the promise of clear blue skies.
But they were then hit by a devastating storm, lost their way back to camp and were swept away.
It was a tragedy which made headlines across the world, not all of them kind, as Jim was left to rear their family alone.
Jim, who owned a climbing shop, took Tom and his younger sister Kate, now 15 and a budding professional snowboarder, on a pilgrimage to the area where their mother died two months after the tragedy.
In an interview three years ago, Tom said: “When I’m climbing on my own, I feel free and able to do what I want to do. I don’t really get scared, I just forget everything else and concentrate.”
As a child his room was decorated with photographs of his mother, and mountains. He began learning to climb from the age of eight.
The BBC will film the Eiger trip for a programme titled Children Of The Mountains.
A spokesman for the programme said: “I visited the family a few months ago and Tom said he wanted to do this. He will be the youngest person to do it.
“He is very muscular and I think he is going to turn into a genius climber. He is like Spiderman with ability and grace when he climbs.”
He added: “He will take the classic route up the Eiger that back in the 1930s people thought would be impossible.
“For him it is the first rung of the ladder into a career that will enthral the world.”
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