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Drama at 17,000ft for ice hockey goalie.

Byline: Carys Hepworth

A FORMER city ice hockey goalie has spoken of a "traumatic" high altitude Alaska challenge which saw an injured colleague stretchered off a mountain and another suffer frostbite.

Jeff Smith, who played for his hometown Cardiff Devils, told the Echo how five members of his team had to drop out of the assault on Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America, which is also known as Mount McKinley.

The dangerous mission saw Jeff's guide develop potentially fatal high altitude cerebral oedema, meaning the trip was suddenly called off as the remaining four sat at High Camp, at 5,200m (17,000ft), ready to head to the summit.

Jeff, 48, said a member of his group had to be lowered down the mountain head-first in the snow after injuring his leg. Another team-mate had to give in after the tips of his fingers became blue - despite his attempts to hide the frostbite from guides.

Of the five Americans and four Brits who started the mission, only the Brits remained.

Jeff said: "It was Jubilee weekend and as we sat there, the only ones still standing, we did feel we were flying the flag.

"We thought we'd crack it, we'd done it, and said as soon as the weather broke, we were going to climb to the summit.

"But within five minutes, our guide told us 'guys, the trip's over', and we had to go down with him before he was taken to hospital in a helicopter.

"It was precarious on the way down. There were a couple of ridges about 18in wide, it was very dangerous.

"On the way up there was hardly any visibility so we couldn't see how far down the drops went. But when we had to descend, the clouds had shifted. It was beautiful, but it showed how steep it was."

Despite the disappointment Jeff, from Old St Mellons, is looking to his next mission and hopes to tackle a summit even higher than Mt Denali's 6,194m (20,320ft) peak. He added: "It was a wonderful trip, but it was traumatic. It was very challenging but a fantastic journey.

"I'm very disappointed we didn't make the summit but you have to be philosophical. It wasn't meant to be.

"My next goal is an 8,000m (26,000ft) peak. A dangerous mountain dealt us some very tricky cards, so I now have to look to the future."


* Jeff Smith, a former Cardiff Devils goalie, has returned from a gruelling Alaska trek
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 14, 2012
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