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By Richard Cowper

BRITISH mountaineers are billing it the battle of the Himalaya. Doug Scott - legendary climber and the first Briton to ascend Everest - versus Alan Hinkes, a young thruster with a mission to become as famous as possible as fast as possible. 

There are just 14 peaks over 8,000 metres (26,000ft) in the world and the ascent of these giants is viewed by many as the ultimate achievement for a mountaineer

The race between the Italian Rheinhold Messner and the Pole Jerzy Kukuczka to be first to complete them all held the climbing world spellbound until Messner was first over the top in 1986. So far they are the only two to have climbed all of them. 

Hinkes equalled Scott's record of four 8,000m peaks last year when he guided a Venezuelan to the top of Broad Peak in the Pakistani Himalaya by the normal route. He does little to disguise his intention of trying to bag as many more as he can with the aim of proclaiming himself Britain's 'top' mountaineer

But for Scott, a man more concerned with climbing hard new routes on mountains of any height with a group of friends, it is a race that will never be. At 50 he has succeeded on more original routes in the world's great ranges than perhaps any Briton, and is uninterested in a game of numbers. 

To scotch any suggestion of joining such a race, he has been quick to invite Alan Hinkes on his own expedition this month to Nanga Parbat, at 8,150m the world's ninth highest mountain. The attempt via the unclimbed eight-mile-long Mazeno ridge is the most ambitious British climb anywhere this year. 

For Hinkes - without an expedition this season after Andy Fanshawe, his partner for K2 (the world's second-highest peak), was killed in an accident earlier this year - the offer proved irresistible. 

'I looked at the route. I asked what was I letting myself in for with Doug . . . but he has lasted so long, he doesn't want to die . . . I said Yes,' says Hinkes. 

Located in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan, and bounded to the north and west by the Indus, Nanga Parbat ('naked mountain' in Sanskrit) stands in splendid isolation as the dazzling culmination of the western half of the Himalaya

Looking to the summit from Scott's base camp in the Rupal valley, it rises almost sheer for close on 5,000m. Many say it is the most beautiful of the big Himalayan peaks, but it is famous for savage storms and big avalanches, the mountaineer's two worst enemies. 

So far, the weather has been kind. Hinkes and Scott have spent a month acclimatising, getting fit, and making a recce of the routes up and down. Now, with their unusual but highly experienced team of two Russians, two Nepalis and a British film cameraman (between them they have climbed 14 8,000m peaks), they are setting off for the Mazeno col to start the climb proper. 

At a time when most Himalayan climbers are obsessed with attempting the steepest faces, the Mazeno ridge sounds like a return to more traditional mountaineering: all the great Alpine and Himalayan mountains were first conquered via ridges. 

However, what makes this climb unique and highly dangerous is its unusual length and sustained height. At least eight miles as the crow flies (no one really knows), the route follows the world's longest unclimbed ridge. 

From the Mazeno col, Scott's party will traverse a knife-edge ridge loaded with dangerous cornices and ascend and descend at least seven mountains, most of them over 7,000m, to the Mazeno gap. All this before the final gruelling ascent in the so-called 'death zone' above 8,000 metres to the summit pyramid of Nanga Parbat at 8,150m. It is hardly surprising that some mountaineers are calling it 'infinity ridge'. 

In comparison, the unclimbed and much coveted north-east ridge of Everest is 4 1/2 miles, little more than half the length of the Mazeno. Even so, Everest's north-east ridge has long been regarded as the most awesome Himalayan proposition because of the distance climbers have to travel at a height where the body functions at less than 30 per cent of normal capabilities. 

The difficulties of the Mazeno ridge have kept all but one team away, and that by chance. In 1979 a group of 22 of France's top climbers, led by Jean Pierre Fresafond, were planning a new route on the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, but an earthquake denied them the opportunity. At the last minute they shifted their efforts to the Mazeno ridge. The climb ended in disarray after only the first of the Mazeno peaks had been scaled. 

Says Hinkes: 'I think it is more committing than any route I know. If you get trapped in a blizzard on the Mazeno ridge no helicopter can fly that high. There is no easy way off. Both sides are precipitous. If you got sick in a storm it would quickly become a matter of life and death. You either have to go on or back. And if you are halfway along that's four miles at an altitude where every step requires a tremendous effort.' 

Nanga Parbat has often been cruel. Over the last century only 101 climbers have reached its summit and 55 lost their lives trying, making it the most dangerous mountain in the world after Annapurna. Most famous of all was the great British mountaineer A F Mummery, who died trying to scale its Diamir face in 1895 in a climb widely regarded as decades ahead of its time. 

It was only last year that the first Britons - Roger Mears and Dave Walsh - reached its summit. But Scott's attempt is of a different order. If successful it will go down not only as the greatest British triumph on what has been regarded as the Austro-German mountain, but the most audacious achievement in the Himalaya for many years. 

Both Hinkes and Scott will then have five 8,000m peaks to their credit. For Scott, four of them will have been conquered via new routes. At 37, there seems little doubt that Hinkes will eventually come out on top of any British Himalayan league table. But success on the Mazeno ridge might make him think harder about how he does it. 
22 August 1992