KATHMANDU Five wounded current and former British Army soldiers, including one who lost an arm, depart on Saturday for the base camp of Mount Everest to try to climb the world's tallest peak for charity.
The soldiers are part of a 30-climber British expedition to the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) summit. They will take the normal South East Ridge route pioneered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953.
The expedition is sponsored by Walking with the Wounded, a charity that raises funds to train and educate wounded soldiers and help them return to work once they leave the military. Britain's Prince Harry is a patron of the charity.
"I am so excited, very excited and a little bit nervous," said Martin Hewitt, 31, who trekked to the North Pole with the charity in 2011 and is a former captain who has a paralysed right arm after being shot in Afghanistan in 2007.
The team climbed Mount Manaslu, the world's eighth tallest peak at 8,163 metres (26,781 feet) in western Nepal last year as part of their training.
"It is teamwork," said David Wiseman, a 29-year-old captain shot in the chest during a battle with the Taliban in 2009. "If one guy finds a particular thing like using the crampons difficult, the others can help him."
The others taking part are private Jaco van Gass, 25, who lost an arm in a grenade attack in Afghanistan, ex-private Karl Hinett, 25, who sustained burns to his legs, hands and face in Iraq, and Captain Francis Atkinson, 31, whose right arm no longer functions properly after a gunshot wound in Afghanistan.
Everest climbing season started in March and continues through May. Climbers wait in tents for a window of good weather to make the summit bid before the onset of annual monsoon rains.
Although summit bids are generally made in May when the weather improves, climbers begin heading to the mountain in March or early April to have time to set up camps and shuttle between them in order to adjust to the thin air at high altitude.
Hundreds of foreign climbers go to Mount Everest and other peaks in Nepal every year. Mountain climbing is a key component of tourism, which accounts for four percent of gross domestic product annually.
More than 4,000 people have reached the top of Mount Everest since Hillary and Tenzing's climb - among them a 13 year-old American boy, a 76-year-old man, a blind person and a man with artificial limb. More than 200 have lost their lives attempting to scale the peak.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma, editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)