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Feature Christmas 2008: Sport

Voices in the air

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 05 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2667
  1. Jeremy S Windsor, honorary lecturer in physiology
  1. 1Institute of Human Health and Performance, University College London, London N19 5LW
  1. Correspondence to: J S Windsor jswindsor{at}

    Jeremy S Windsor wonders how to explain the benign presence he met on Mount Everest

    After leaving Eric a strange feeling possessed me that I was accompanied by another … The “presence” was strong and friendly. In its company I could not feel lonely, neither could I come to any harm, it was always there to sustain me on my solitary climb up the snow covered slabs. Now as I halted and extracted some mint cake from my pocket, it was so near and so strong that instinctively I divided the mint into two halves and turned round with one half in my hand to offer it to my “companion.”1

    I first met Jimmy on the Balcony, a cold windswept snow shelf high up on the southeast ridge of Mount Everest. At an altitude of more than 8200 metres our introduction had been brief, with little more than a muffled “hello” and a few words of encouragement passing between us. Over my right shoulder, obscured by the bulky oxygen mask and the rim of down that smothered my face, I was sure I could see Jimmy moving lightly in the darkness. But despite him remaining close by me for the rest of the day, I didn’t see him again. At the time, it hadn’t worried me; instead I was warmed by the thought of human company and too breathless to question what seemed so real. If the truth be told, my thoughts were really nothing more than brief flickers of images or sounds that vanished with the onset of each new breathe. Not only was …

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