James Scott: How I Survived

The Sun Herald

Sunday March 8, 1992


I AM 23 now, but I was 22 when this began. I was a year away from graduating in medicine, and had planned to work in a Third World country -maybe Africa - while I settled on a speciality. I was interested in surgery and psychiatry.

In our final year at medical school we do an elective period, a short stint at a hospital of our choice. I wanted to go to Nepal, partly to get a taste of Third World medicine, partly to explore the country.

The physical aspects did not worry me. I have always been pretty fit. I do a lot of karate, sometimes training six nights a week, and I do some bush walking and cycling.

Karate is a passion with me: in 1989 I won the Queensland championships in my weight class of 75-80kg and came third in the Australian championships. I teach karate to a group of youngsters in Brisbane.

They sent me a funny card after I was rescued with a picture of us all stuck on the top and their comments underneath. "Thank God you're alive,"wrote one. "Liam said you were dead." "Thank God you're not dead James," wrote Liam. That made me laugh.

In September 1990 I wrote my first letter to a hospital in Nepal, asking if I could do my elective period there. No reply came, but with a couple of friends, Tim Hooper and Annie Connor, I decided to go anyway.

By September the next year we had booked our tickets. Eventually we did get a letter saying we could do the elective in December.

I had met my fiancee Gaye Ryan in June 1991, at a university function. I took her to dinner and to a movie. We just chatted, but I knew within two weeks of meeting her that I would marry her. Even before I had kissed her, I knew. I'm not an impulsive person but there was no doubt in my mind.

She is a commerce graduate and teaches at a private business school in Brisbane. About seven weeks after we met I proposed to her and she was very surprised, but she agreed straight away. We were really wrapped up in each other.

I still wanted to go to Nepal and I owed it to Annie and Tim. Gaye was very understanding but I think she would rather I had gone somewhere where I could have kept in contact with her. I wished she could come along but it just wasn't practical for her to leave work for two months.

Before I left we went to the Gold Coast for the weekend. My mind wasn't on Nepal then; I was thinking about Gaye. We talked about the wedding we had planned for the following year.

Things had just come together all at once. I was within a year of graduating, I was getting good marks at medical school, I'd found the girl of my dreams, I was going to get married, I had this great trip to Nepal coming up: things were pretty wonderful.

A lot of people say happiness only comes with hindsight. But it was not like that for me. I knew how wonderful things were. I have never been super-intelligent, but I know how to work hard. It's a habit I got from my mother; she's the hardest worker I've ever known.

I had been given another perspective too. In 1988 I had a bad bout of blood poisoning. I experienced the most excruciating pain I've ever known. I couldn't walk for two weeks. After that I really decided to get on with life, to get up and do things. In that spirit, I went to Nepal.

Gaye was very upset when I left, more so than I expected. I told her not to worry.

STAFF at the hospital in Kathmandu suggested we should go trekking before doing the elective, so we went off on a trek called the Jomsom Trail.

We took everything. Boots, down jackets which we hired, ski jackets, ski gloves, thermal underwear; we had two porters and a guide. We went to 3,000m and it was exceptionally beautiful. Tim and I realised we had wasted a lot of money on gear we just didn't need.

It was cold but not freezing. We met some people who had just crossed a pass at 5,400m with practically nothing - in ski jackets and sneakers, without even taking sleeping bags. That wasn't unusual; many trekkers in Nepal are on a tight budget and don't take all the equipment. In the end we sent the guide and porters back with a lot of the gear and we completed the trek with no problems at all.

We kicked our heels in Kathmandu for a while but soon decided on another trek. We chose the Helambu Trail, which never goes above 3,000m, with lodges all the way round. This time we did not hire the down jackets or porters or guides. I had a sleeping bag I had brought with me but my expensive, Italian trekking boots had caused me some blisters, so this time I took trainers.

We took iodine to purify water and a sensible medical kit. I had about 10 pairs of underwear and socks, half a dozen T-shirts, a pair of red woollen long johns, a pair of karate pants, cotton long pants, and tracksuit pants. I had one sweatshirt, and a light ski jacket. I had a towel, my camera and four books: The Silence of the Lambs, Great Expectations, the Lonely Planet Guide to Nepal and a Guide to Trekking in Nepal. We had a map, but like most you buy in Nepal, it was old and confusing. My pack weighed about 10 kilos.

On the way out I picked up some letters from the post office. There was one from my sister Joanne, one from mum, a Christmas card and a letter from Gaye, and a Christmas card from Gaye's mother and father.

On the first night there was a beautiful full moon which illuminated the high Himalayas to the north. At the first lodge we stayed we met some Germans, who said pretty firmly that Helambu was "a nothing trek, a grandfather's trek". "You could stay here for five days and see more. There's nothing there."

They recommended the Gosainkund Trek, and described the beautiful glacial lakes. They said it crossed a 4,600m pass and that there was no snow or ice at the moment. They told us to go up very slowly - to climb only 400m an hour -and that if it snowed we must turn back. That was something I remembered.

I went upstairs and read a chapter of Great Expectations. The next morning I got up and watched the extraordinary sunrise over the mountains.

We decided to do Gosainkund and the Germans gave us a really good new map. The next day we encountered Mark Fulton, an Australian trekking alone. He said he was doing the Helambu Trail, but we told him what the Germans had said and showed him the new map, with the trails clearly shown. Mark decided to join us.

Shortly afterwards Tim's knees gave way and he decided to go back. I offered to go back with him. I know he would have read in my face that I wanted to go on. He said no, he was very happy to go down alone. We arranged to meet on Christmas Eve at KCs, our favourite restaurant in Kathmandu.

Tim asked me for a map. The old map was at the bottom of my pack and the new one was at the top. I gave the new map to Tim without thinking. Only later did I appreciate how good that map was.

We only had one lighter between us, and that was in Tim's bag. They were mistakes. Now I think: if only I had had those with me. If only I had gone back with Tim. If only we hadn't met the Germans. If only ...

We spent a night at Mangengoth, about 3,000m, and it was much colder. Mark's camera stopped working but a German engineer we had met took the batteries out and rubbed them between his hands for five minutes. He put them back in the camera and it worked.

We reached Therapati, where the Helambu Trail goes to the right, Gosainkund to the left. The lodgekeeper told us he thought it would snow in five days. We had met trekkers coming down from Gosainkund and they all said it was a hard walk, but there was no snow.

That night we got up to the lodge at Phedi, at 3,600m. The lodgekeeper told us he was going down to Talu the next day. We bought their hen, and the lodgekeeper cooked it for us, and as we ate I told them the reason we had to have the hen was for Christmas. Mark and I were getting on well and I was in great spirits. I bought a bottle of beer for $A2.

I went to bed about 9.30 and read a chapter of Charles Dickens. Then, by the feeble light, I began a letter to Gaye in a red pen I had borrowed from the lodgekeeper. I told her we'd been having a wonderful time, and that I missed her a lot.

But it had become fearfully cold. I had my coat on inside my sleeping bag, the long johns, two pairs of trousers, ski gloves, and my head completely in my sleeping bag. I did not know it, but outside the snow was beginning to dust the ground.

When Mark Fulton and I left the lodge at Phedi on the morning of December 22 there was a faint sprinkling of snow on the ground and on the roof of the lodge.

From the start I felt anxious. Maybe it was the effects of the altitude, but what the Germans had said was ringing in my ears: "If it snows, you must turn back".

There was some cloud, but not enough to make us think it would certainly snow. I wanted an excuse not to go on. I begged the owner of the lodge to tell me that there was the slightest chance it might snow; that would have been enough. He said, "No. It will not snow today."

I asked, "Are you sure?" He said, "I promise you, it will not snow." He said we would have no trouble going across the pass. I convinced myself I was over-reacting.

We had had some breakfast - porridge and Tibetan bread and jam. We left about 7.30 and trekked for about half an hour on a clear trail. It was a steep ascent, but we were taking it slowly. I had a mild headache but I felt all right. We were following the trail on the old map but there were no real landmarks - even Phedi is not marked. It was getting very cloudy and even colder.

Then light snow began to fall and I became anxious. We decided to take photographs of each other to record the white Christmas, but Mark's camera jammed again.

He took the batteries out and rubbed them as the German had done. It took about 15 minutes. In that time, the weather closed in. The clouds enfolded us and the snow was suddenly bucketing down in big wet flakes.

Five minutes later the trail disappeared under the snow; there were four or five inches on the ground. We could see only 10 metres ahead. We were walking, but somehow we had got on opposite sides of the creek and we lost each other in the cloud. Yet we were close; after 15 minutes of shouting, we found each other again. My headache got worse; I knew we were in a lot of trouble.

I suddenly had a vivid memory of a ski trip I made the previous June to Mount Buller in Victoria. At the top there is a monument to a young skiier who got lost in a blizzard and died; when they found his body he was less than 50m from a lookout hut. Even if we had been 30m from the lodge at Phedi, we would not have known.

We were at about 4,200m and needed to get up to 4,600m before the trail would descend. It wasn't going up to the top that scared me but what we would do on the other side, where we had no idea of the direction.

I told Mark I thought it was stupid to go on and that we were in a lot of trouble. He was very blase about it and said he would trek on till one o'clock, and if he couldn't find his way over the pass he would turn back.

We had a brief discussion - it was amicable - and I decided to go back. We agreed we would each check that the other had returned to Kathmandu on the 24th. I was really worried that Mark would be the one who would not make it.

I WALKED back along the creek, trying to follow our steps back to Phedi, but the footprints had been covered by the snow. The snow was still falling thickly, and the creek had iced up in a lot of places.

I came to a waterfall and a flimsy bridge which I thought I recognised from the previous day's trekking. At first I couldn't see any trace of a trail leading to the bridge, but I thought there must be one. Finally I saw a gap in the vegetation leading downwards by a creek. I didn't know where I was or where it led but I thought it must go somewhere. I saw on the map that the creek led directly down to Talu.

I started on the trail but within five minutes I had lost it. I was on a ridge with the creek below me and I was descending quite quickly. Then the brambles gave way to thicker vegetation of pine trees and bushes. My headache had gone and somehow I interpreted the change of landscape as a signal that I was getting closer to Talu. I began to feel good again.

Four hours later I had found nothing. I had eaten a quarter of one of my two chocolate bars. I was wet because I had had to descend some of the snowy slopes on my backside. But now the valley, which had been open and flat, had narrowed into a steep sided gully. I was down at the level of the creek, which had been joined by other creeks, and was swelling into a small river. Then the river just disappeared into a crashing waterfall.

I went to the edge and looked over. It was very steep with no way down. Ahead, I could see a pool buttressed by cliffs, then a veil of cloud. The sides of the gully I was in were sheer rock, around 30m high, now slicked with the snow which was still falling.

I could have gone back but I didn't want to; it didn't make sense. I decided to try to climb the east side of the gully where I thought Talu was.

I don't know how I got up that cliff. I am terrified of heights, yet there was no choice. It was real rock climbing, moving from one ledge to another. On a couple of sections I was just holding on by my fingers. I wondered whether to drop my rucksack, but I didn't. I knew that if I fell, that would be it. It took me two hours and I scrambled to the top exhausted.

I was very anxious, but I kept telling myself that as long as I had two good arms and two good legs I could get out of this.

It was still snowing and the visibility was less than 30m. I could see nothing, except another creek. I found a big rock with an overhang and crawled into the space beneath where the snow had not fallen.

I N my second year at medi cal school I attended a series of lectures on hypo thermia. I knew that if you were wet you could develop severe frostbite even in conditions well above zero.

I had a towel in my bag. I took off my clothes I dried myself vigorously. I dried between my toes; I dried my ears, my hair, between my fingers, everywhere. I put on the dry clothes I had in my rucksack. I ate another half of the chocolate bar: one and a quarter bars remained.

It was cold but I could still sleep that night with my sleeping bag pulled over my head. I still had no doubt that I would walk out of this mess. The next morning I ate the last quarter of the first chocolate bar. I passed a bowel motion - my last for seven weeks. I left behind the tracksuit trousers I had been wearing the day before: it occurred to me that this might be of use if tracker dogs were sent after me. The snow was constant; most of the rocks had disappeared under the white shroud.

I followed the new creek for most of the morning. The sides of its gully were not as steep, but there was nowhere to walk along the edge. At some points I had to jump from rock to rock to move forward. A film of ice had formed on the stone and I slipped often. I fell in the thigh deep creek at least half a dozen times. Two hours later - I think I had travelled about a kilometre - I came to the second impassable waterfall.

The banks to the creek were not especially high - maybe three metres - but they were sheer rock. Every time I tried to climb them I would get about half way then skid back down into the creek.

Finally I reached the top, where a steep, snowy, wooded slope rose above me. I began to go upwards, pulling myself up on the branches of bushes. The snow was at least knee deep. Had I had boots on I doubt I could have lifted my feet out of the snow.

As I climbed the slope got steeper. I looked up and I realised I could go no further. I worked my way across the slope, back to where it was less steep, and started climbing again. It was desperately hard. My feet were frozen; everything was wet and cold. I walked upwards for hours. I had a quarter of my last chocolate bar. The cloud was so thick that I could only see one pine tree ahead of me. I kept thinking the slope would level off after the pine tree, but then there would just be another pine tree, higher up. Later I realised that this slope was at least 1,000m high.

About four o'clock I had another quarter of the chocolate bar. I came to a rocky overhang; it was smaller than the last with just enough space underneath to lie in. I took off my clothes - they were utterly sodden. I dried myself thoroughly again.

When I lay down I could not stop shivering. It was terrible; so cold. My optimism had evaporated and I was certain I was going to die that night. I took out a blue pen and a hardback notebook from my rucksack and, lying on my back with the icy rock just above my head, I wrote a letter to my family.

I told them all how much I loved them and how and why I respected them. I told them I wasn't suffering. I even told them I wasn't cold and that I had died doing something I loved. The writing was a mess, but I had to get it down. I ate the rest of the chocolate bar because I wasn't going to die with food in my bag.

I took out the letter to Gaye I had started in Phedi. The first line I wrote was, "It is now two days later and things have gone horribly wrong". I told her I was afraid my death was imminent. I wrote till it was dark.

I felt a lot of love, but I just couldn't believe what I had done. I was not scared of dying. I had a lot of faith in God. But I felt tremendous guilt; in the letters I apologised for what I had done. Alone in this small icy place, I tried to apologise for dying, but it was very hard.

I was surprised to see the dawn. My feet were burning and I was hungry. I was tempted to keep my dry clothes on but I forced myself to put them back in my rucksack. The wet clothes I had left out were frozen stiff; I had to crack the ice on them to put them on. Just after dawn I started climbing again.

I had climbed for about an hour and the weather became a bit clearer. I could see through the trees that I was approaching a cliff. As I got higher I realised just how big a cliff it was: 200m high and completely unnegotiable. It had stopped snowing and the cliff ran as far as I could see along the top of the valley wall.

I decided that the only thing to do was to move along the base of the cliff and that maybe then I would be able to pass the waterfall and continue towards Talu.

But the valley was punctuated with deep gullies where the snow had collected. I sank up to my waist at times; sometimes I had to try to crawl across or pull myself through on the branches of overhanging trees. The pain in my feet was unbearable: now it seemed to begin deep in the bone.

The slope I was working across became very steep and I had descended a few hundred metres. About mid-morning I came across a large overhanging rock perched halfway up the north side of a gully. The space underneath the overhang was about 5m by 3m, dry and sheltered by trees in front. Not far away, on the valley side, was a big clearing, maybe 60m wide, where I thought I might have a good chance of being spotted by a helicopter.

It had started snowing heavily again. I went on and tried to cross the gully. I got across the bottom but on the other side the bamboo bushes were impenetrable. I felt utterly exhausted and demoralised. I knew I could not climb out of the gully and I decided to go back to the rock.

When I took my socks off under the overhang my feet were literally blue. I could not feel them at all. I knew that the blood supply had diminished and that there was not enough oxygen in the blood, causing it to change colour. I knew that if this continued I would lose my feet. I spent a lot of time trying to warm them with a towel but it was no good.

I put on my dry clothes. I wrapped a pair of shorts around my head. I got out my hairbrush and brushed the pebbles away from the floor of the ledge. There were some signs that people had been here before - the remains of a long-dead fire and a couple of what looked like axe handles; I took some comfort from these. I curled up with one hand between my thighs and the other folded into my hood and fell asleep. At dusk I woke up, thirsty. I took my sleeping bag cover and filled it with snow. For an hour I ate the snow ravenously and the valley darkened. The temperature dropped and I began to shiver, a violent uncontrollable shaking. I felt frozen inside and I realised I had made a stupid mistake: the snow had lowered my body temperature dramatically.

I passed out and drifted in and out of consciousness. I prayed that night, as I did every other night, that Mark Fulton had made it alive. I was aware that he had only attempted the trek because of what I had said to him. I didn't want his death on my shoulders.

That was the only time I lost consciousness but the same ideas cycled through my mind for the whole 43 days. If only this, if only that ... The guilt - a lot of guilt - and the feeling of foolishness. Yet for the first weeks I could not say I was unhappy or depressed. I could accept everything that had happened, though I wished it could have been different.

I thought I had two small chances. One, that I would be seen by a helicopter; and two, that the snow would eventually melt sufficiently for me to be able to walk on. I weighed up the odds and gave myself a 5 per cent chance of living. I decided to stay under the rock and hope that it would stop snowing and that there would be a thaw.

I did not sleep much during the nights, but I would watch the moon wax and wane. In the night the clouds would clear so that when the sun came up I could see how white everything was and how complete the snowfall had been.

Then about 10 o'clock the clouds would move up the valley floor, like the smoke from a distant explosion. Then they would rise and enclose the rock and the snow would start again. When it was clear I could see the Laurenbinayak Pass and I could work out roughly where I was. I estimated that the pass was about 1,000m above me so I must be at about 3,500m. I was probably 15 kilometres by foot from Phedi but there was no chance of getting back or going on. The landscape was simply too great a barrier. I was tired and my feet were numb.

E ACH morning I fol lowed a routine. I chose a spot at the side of the rock as a urinal. I went there twice a day. My urine was darker than normal which indicated slight dehydration. I pinched my skin regularly to check its elasticity - dehydrated skin does not regain its tautness.

As the sun rose above the east bank it cast its light to the valley's depths. Then I would get out of the sleeping bag and collect snow in the sleeping bag cover. I'd get back into the sleeping bag and crush the snow down into hard balls.

I could still concentrate enough to read, so I took out my copy of Great Expectations. To pace my consumption of snow I would read two pages and consume one snowball. By the afternoon the snow inside the balls had melted in the sun and I could just suck the water out. Great expectations: it occurred to me that that was what my parents had for me.

For the first 10 days I was hideously hungry. I went through various cravings, first for junk food, then for home cooking, then for fresh fruit. Food became a morbid preoccupation.

As time went on I learned to distract myself by thinking about a particular karate move. I would go over the details of the technique; the exact stance, the position of every finger, the sequence of movement played slowly in my mind.

I tried eating every type of vegetation that grew nearby. I tried the bamboo which was fibrous and left a grittiness in the mouth. I tried pine leaves which were bitter. I found a little bush, less than metre high, that looked as if it might produce berries. I had high hopes for that bush but the leaves had the powerful taste of inedibility.

I quickly realised that these things tasted bad, didn't fill me up and provided no calories. But there was a small plant under the rock which tasted spicy. I ate that just to have a flavour in my mouth. Once I ate a caterpillar, but I never found more.

For the first 10 days it snowed, but for the next five days it was sunny. The hunger began to abate. Water began to run off the rock above me, but the depth of the snow did not diminish.

I managed to climb the other side of the gully where I expected to see some kind of settlement. The snow was deep and slushy and it was an awful climb. But when I looked over the other side I saw only the snowy ranks of more ridges and gullies, rising from a bank of cloud.

I used to think about a day I had spent in the burns unit last year. A young man was brought in from north Queensland; he had been burnt in a tent and had 95 per cent burns to his body. He had had to walk 3km to get help. He was riddled with bacteria, shivering and septic. I've never seen anyone so ill; there was so much pain in his eyes. It helped me to think of this and to tell myself that I was not suffering.

Yet in a way I wanted to feel pain, I wanted to know that I was still alive. I had a small first aid kit with me and one day, when my feet were completely numb, I took out a pair of dissection scissors and drove them into the side of my foot. I pushed them in about a centimetre and saw the blood ooze out. There was no pain at all.

O N one of the sunny days, I was woken by dreadful screams. It was an awful sound; the sound of a baby being tortured. I looked out and saw bushes moving on the snowy slope about 30m above me. I could see a black shape and I thought it was a cow thrashing in the undergrowth.

Then the black shape came out of the bushes and stopped and stared at me. It was a Himalayan black bear. It had huge arms and stocky legs; on all fours, it was about four feet high.

I had the dissecting scissors and I started shouting at the bear: "Come here | Come here |" If it had come I don't think I would have minded; it would either have been a quick death or it would have provided enough food to last me till spring. It was a chance of living and we stared at each other for a long moment. But it turned and crashed through the bushes, over the snow and up the slope.

During the next five nights, the screams continued. They would start in the distance, then get louder and louder, and I would hear the rustling in the bushes. I lay in my sleeping bag, clutching the scissors.

I had changed my mind about fighting the bear; I was concerned about being injured and dying slowly and I didn't want my body to be mauled when it was found. But the bear never came really close and after five nights it disappeared.

On day 30 I heard a helicopter for the first time. It was early in the morning; I was shivering in my sleeping bag. At first I thought it was the wind but then I made out the chop-chop of the blade.

I bolted out to the clearing. There had been a heavy snowfall the night before and the clearing was thigh-deep. I thrashed my way into the centre, waving my sleeping bag. I pulled down my trousers so that my red woollen long johns would be visible. The helicopter screamed past, up to where I knew Phedi was, and circled around. Sometimes when it circled it was face-on to me, but 10 kilometres away.

When it came back it hugged the west bank and shot past. I had not talked to myself, or spoken out loud much until then, but now I shouted at the empty valley, "Don't leave me here |" It was the first sign of human life I had seen in 30 days and I found it encouraging. Two days later another helicopter came, screamed past me again, and buzzed around Phedi. This time it flew back slowly. I was waving like crazy but it went past.

I WAS still lucid and not depressed. I was a lot thinner but I still had some energy. My body was feeding off the protein in the substantial muscles in my legs, buttocks and abdomen built up through karate. I knew that if I had been less muscular the body would have faltered. When the muscle is used up the body consumes its own fat, translating it into acids which poison the organs.

I had held in my mind a picture of an anorexic I had seen in a surgical textbook. It was just a skeleton draped in skin. I vowed I would never allow myself to get like that and that I would die with dignity. If it ever came to the stage where I could not get up to urinate or, if I needed, to defecate, I would kill myself.

I knew I was weaker but I did not feel ill. The hunger had gone but I was lonely. I read the letters and cards I had over and over again. Once the first page of the letter from my mother blew into the gully and I stumbled into the snow to retrieve it. I found myself singing - some songs from The Sound Of Music, a film Gaye and I had watched together. I sniffed at my shampoo and my Old Spice deodorant, because somehow the smells reminded me of my previous life.

I got a throat infection and bad ulcers in my mouth. My nose became blocked and I found that if I put Chapstick up my nose it stopped it getting clogged. When I ran out of Chapstick I used some of my Old Spice deodorant stick; I think it made me a bit high. My urine was getting darker. My body was giving up on me. It was still snowing.

I had stopped counting the days. But I had watched the moon fade to a sliver and grow into a bright coin which threw its light on to the opposite slope. I watched it with awe; it was an orange light, under which the slopes of snow sparkled. The moon shrank to a crescent and swelled again. I knew I had been lost for about six weeks and that it was getting towards the end of January. I felt sure no-one would be looking for me now.

I knew one of these days must be my birthday and I was taken with an urge to write to my parents and my fiancee again. By the light of the moon I found my cheap ballpoint in my rucksack but I could not make it write. It was clogged with dirt, so I cut off the top with the dissecting scissors and it worked.

When I was writing to Gaye the pen ran out. The moon started to wane and I got terribly cold again.

At the beginning when I wedged my hand down between my thighs to sleep it fitted neatly into the valley of muscle. Now I could bunch my fist and pass it through the gap between my legs. I squeezed my leg; what had been a wad of muscle was now a stringy tendon. I felt my buttocks - there was nothing but bone. I pinched the skin on my stomach and when I let it go it did not quite fall back into place.

I felt I had to do something. The next day - probably day 40 - I decided to walk to Ghopte. I thought it was maybe 6km to the north and that I could walk 2km a day. I packed up my rucksack. I left all my books except the Guide to Trekking in Nepal, which had a translation section. I kept my sleeping bag and woollen long johns, but I left my first aid kit, my T-shirts, my underpants. The rucksack weighed about 5kg, but when I put it on I staggered under its weight. The waist strap was loose and when I did it up as far as possible it still hung feebly around my hips.

The snow was never less than knee deep, but it had frozen so I didn't sink so far. It took me an hour to get across the 60m clearing. I was gorging on snow as I walked, but the exercise seemed to stop me getting cold. It took me two hours to move 100 metres. In the last half hour I was vomiting water constantly, then I was retching and my eyes were watering. I had to stop.

I looked down the valley and I saw ominous black snow clouds moving up towards me. For the first time I seriously contemplated suicide.

Should I just sit down, and allow myself to be covered in snow or should I try to struggle back?

When cancer spreads to the bone and becomes terminal doctors offer what is called palliative treatment. It means that it does not have any effect on the disease, but it makes the patient as comfortable as possible. I did not want to be slowly frozen in a snowstorm; death would be welcome but I wanted palliative treatment. I thought I would go back to die beneath my rock.

When I returned I put on dry clothes and got into my sleeping bag. My feet were sore, my mouth was ulcerated, I was desperately cold and suddenly hungry. I had been vomiting for the past three hours. I had had enough.

I thought there were two possibilities. One was to put some ice over my cubital fossa, on the inside of each elbow. That would freeze it sufficiently for me to open up the skin with the dissecting scissors and snip the artery. I had seen a lot of people in psychiatric wards who had tried to slash their wrists unsuccessfully. But I knew the anatomy here and I thought I would pass out in three minutes.

My other idea was to put a shoelace round my neck, tie it around a stick and turn the stick until it cut off my breathing. I had no doubt in my mind I could do either of these, though I did not really know if I would be successful.

What dissuaded me was the thought that one day my body would be found and my family would know how much I had suffered. I did not want them to know that; I wanted them to believe my letters. Instead I decided to stop eating snow so dehydration would kill me in three or four days.

I took no more ice or water that night. The next day I read Great Expectations - for the sixth time - and felt myself becoming utterly exhausted. I sucked on a tiny ball of ice to stop myself gagging. I slept the next night and when I stood up the next morning I felt dizzy and staggered to the urinal. My urine was dark brown. I got back in my sleeping bag and dozed.

In the afternoon there was another heavy dump of snow. I had forgotten about my feet and there was a kind of peace; I could convince myself that this was not suicide.

There was no-one to blame for what had happened but myself. It would have been a death without bitterness. Yet I felt a sense of tremendous waste: all the love and care my family had expended on me, and all my own efforts at medical school, were about to rise and fade in the thin air.

That night I slept and I had the most vivid dream of my life. I was at the engagement party that had been planned for when I returned; all my friends and family were there. There was a huge barbecue and Gaye was there, looking really beautiful. I got up and made a speech, and I talked for ages, about my parents and about Gaye and how we would always stick together. The colours of the dream were intense; it absorbed all my senses.

When I awoke it was pitch black; the moon had turned again. I knew I had given up and I shouldn't have. I got up and tried to collect more ice but it was too cold too eat. My mouth stuck to it. I thought it was too late.

The next morning I pinched the skin on my stomach and the fold just flopped over; all the elasticity was gone. But as I lay back in my sleeping bag, surrendering, I heard the faint rhythm of a helicopter.

I WAS so weak that I could only move slowly. I believed, in any case, that the chopper would miss me as it had done before. But I thought about the dream and I struggled out of the bag. I stood up and everything went bright white; I was told later that my blood pressure was so low that blood was not perfusing my retina. It took 10 seconds before I got any vision back and I was dizzy.

The snow was hard, so I sank only to my knees. I couldn't see the helicopter but I pulled my trousers down to show my red long johns. Then I saw the helicopter. It started making big circuits of the valley.

I waved the sleeping bag from side to side and the helicopter must have come within 150m of me. It must have circled for 20 minutes and I had no idea whether they had seen me. I couldn't wave the bag any more and I sank to my knees, gagging. The helicopter shot off down the valley.

I felt that I had done everything I could. I began crawling back to the ledge, when I heard the helicopter again. I could not carry the sleeping bag any more but I forced myself back into the clearing and waved my arm. The helicopter hovered about 100m away from me. My vision was blurred but finally I made out an arm waving from the window.

I thought they must have seen me, but I was so cold. I crawled back to the rock; I thought it would take them four days to reach me and by then I would be dead. When I woke my sleeping bag was soaked. I had been too tired to move to my usual place and had rolled into the snow. I went to the edge of the rock and my urine was black. I was disgusted.

I do not remember much about that day. I slept a lot. As dusk lowered into the valley I was lying with my head under the sleeping bag, just thinking.

When I first heard faint voices I thought I was hallucinating. But the voices persisted and I raised my head and whistled through my teeth. A whistle came back. I shouted, "Namaste | Hello |" and an echoing shout returned.

I grabbed my trekking guide and looked up the translation section. I shouted out in Nepalese: "I am sick |" then "Please come here |" Then I shouted in English: "My legs don't work |" and there were shouts in reply.

Slowly the shouts came nearer, but I was too weak to get up. I shouted "I am under this rock" then suddenly there were two dark figures on the ledge. They ran over and ripped the hood off my head. They were two Nepalese.

They asked, "Are you James Scott from Australia?" I said I was and, for the first time since I had been lost, I cried and cried. They were from Talu and they started hugging me and kissing me. I noticed one of them was barefoot; I knew that many villagers simply could not afford shoes. They were very brave. One of them said, "James Scott, you are a god".

I asked why I was a god, and he said because no-one lived up here for more than 10 days. I said no, God must have kept me alive. Later the rest of the search party came, including Carl Harrison who, with many others organised by my sister, Joanne, had been looking for me for so long. Carl gave me a down vest and a ski jacket. They lit a fire and gave me water.

The next morning the helicopter came back and I was strapped into a harness on the end of a 50m rope. Suddenly I was in the air, swinging gently and rotating. The wind was howling. I was terrified that I was going to fall but I kept looking down. I saw the ledge falling away, below the remains of my training shoes.

From my rock on the east slope I had only ever seen the early light falling on the opposite side of the valley. I rotated on the rope, through the rugged white panorama. I felt a sudden affinity for my rock and a deep wonder at the landscape. I still thought that this must be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Now I rose above the ridge where the wind cut like a knife and I saw the sun rising.

cCopyright: The Daily Telegraph plc, London

© 1992 The Sun Herald

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