Group plans short cut to the top of Everest
Conquering Everest is the ultimate aspiration of every climber. More than 2,500 mountaineers have reached the summit and 210 have died trying.
Today, a group of 32 men and women will become the latest hardy souls to attempt to overcome the world's highest mountain.
But, while their predecessors have all scaled the mountain that straddles Nepal and Tibet from the bottom to the top, this band of adventurers are planning something rather different.
The international group, which includes men and women from Britain, Iraq and Pakistan, have already spent six days trekking to their base camp, which sits at 12,350ft (3,764m), a good way up the mountain. And today, the first of them will board an aeroplane and fly to 30,000ft. Once there, looking down on the mountain, they will leap from the plane.
After freefalling for one minute, at speeds of up to 180mph and braving temperatures of -40C, they will open their parachutes and float back to their base camp, precariously positioned on the edge of a valley – an eight-minute journey.
Half of the mountain lovers have never jumped before. But that hasn't stopped them paying up to £17,000 for the privilege to take part. Among their number is a 72-year-old scientist, a Red Devils freefall member, a former soldier; and Molly Bedingfield, the mother of singers Natasha and Daniel.
Somerset-based climber Nigel Gifford, who himself scaled Everest the traditional way in 1976, has spent two years planning the jump.
He said: "In Nepal, they are saying that this is as important an adventure as the first time they scaled the summit in 1953. This has never been done before. I get a tingle down my spine every time I think about it."
Holly Budge, 29, from Bristol, will be the first to leap from the plane. She has taken part in more than 2,000 skydives and hopes to raise £30,000 for charity this time.
For this jump, she and the other 31 skydivers have been supplied with parachutes that have been specially-made to cope with the extraordinary height the team will jump from and suits that will keep them comfortable amid the freezing temperatures.
And, of course, she has undergone a strict training regime. Andy Wadsworth, of Wadsworth Training, is her personal trainer. He also trains professional athletes including Chris Wood, the 20-year-old golfer who stunned this year's Open at Royal Birkdale when he finished fifth while still an amateur.
He said: "I have been training Holly for the past five months. We've spent a lot of time working on building up her general fitness, mainly so she could last the distance during the six-day trek. I also put her through stability, strength and endurance training by taking her running, cycling and swimming and she is really fit now.
"I spoke to her the night before she left and she was feeling very confident and up for the challenge. I'm sure she and the rest of the people involved will do really well."
The daring attempt shows that the appeal to conquer the world's tallest mountain, which stands at 29,029ft, is still strong.
The mountain itself, first conquered in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, is not said to be particularly difficult to climb, but the sheer size of it presents climbers with the added problems of altitude sickness, adverse weather conditions and wind, hence the number of casualties.