A British climber has recounted how he was convinced he was going to freeze to death after falling down a crevasse and spending a night on a glacier while trying to reach the summit of Mont Blanc.
Feda Hussein had resigned himself to a lonely death on the side of the mountain after spending more than 12 hours stranded amid driving snow and strong winds at an altitude of more than 3,100m or 10,000ft.
Alpine rescue experts told him he was minutes away from death when he was rescued by helicopter on a glacier on the Italian side of Mt Blanc.
He refuted earlier claims that he was poorly equipped, saying that he had crampons, an ice axe, a rope, a helmet and warm clothing for the ascent of Western Europe’s highest peak.
“I was very close to being dead,” he told The Telegraph from his hospital bed in the town of Aosta in northern Italy. “I was unconscious and covered in ice. One of the mountain rescue guys told me today: ‘you are the luckiest man on the planet.’ They told me I was about five minutes away from death. I feel blessed to be alive.”
Mr Hussein, 26, a graduate aerospace engineer from Portsmouth, flew to Turin last Thursday and made his way towards the mountains by train and bus.
His plan was to celebrate his 26th birthday, on Saturday, by reaching the summit of Mt Blanc.
“I was fully prepared,” he said, dismissing reports in the Italian press that he had embarked on the climb in a tracksuit. “I had wet weather gear, an ice axe, crampons and ropes. My backpack weighed 25kg.”
After sleeping in his tent on Friday night he resumed his climb on Saturday, but soon got into difficulty after getting lost and straying from the path to the summit.
He stumbled into an area of crevasses and after several hours of walking, fell into one which he estimated as being 15m to 20m deep, badly injuring his leg. “I thought, that’s it, I’m dead.” But using his ice axe and crampons he managed to climb out of it. “It took all my strength to get out of it. My leg was twisted really badly and I couldn’t walk anymore.”
As darkness fell, he put up his tent, crawled inside his sleeping bag and called the emergency number. “Alpine rescue said that because of the bad weather they wouldn’t be able to reach me until the morning. It was snowing hard, really windy. I told them I don’t think I’ll survive that long, that I’m going to die, but that they shouldn’t worry because it was not their fault.
He said he got out of the tent at some point and then passed out face down on the ice. “I felt that was my last moment. I was really, really cold.”
The next thing he remembers is waking up in hospital, having been rescued by a helicopter on Sunday morning. He spent the next two days in intensive care and was given oxygen to breathe.
On the mountainside his body temperature had dropped to just 25 degrees Celsius – more than 10 degrees less than normal.
Despite initially losing feeling in his hands and legs, he hopes to make a full recovery. “I’m so grateful. I’m lucky to be alive.”
Mr Hussein admitted that he could have planned his climb better. “If I did it again I would rely more on the huts (mountain refuges), rather than trying to make straight for the summit in one go. The weather made a big difference. Had I done it in the summer I think I would have summited.”
He hopes to fly home this week and to return to his job at the INS Group, a Portsmouth-based company that designs telecommunications towers.
On his company profile, when asked whether he has a special talent, he replied: “I can do vertical mountain climb and descent for 32 hours with no rest.”
So many hikers have run into trouble on Mont Blanc that there have been calls to make them pay for rescue operations.
In August the mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a town on the French side of Mont Blanc, suggested that anyone wanting to climb the mountain should put down a €15,000 deposit to cover possible rescue and funeral costs.
Jean-Marc Peillex complained that too many inexperienced, ill-equipped climbers were attempting to scale the mountain. He said it was “unacceptable” that the costs were borne by French taxpayers.