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The Scotsman
Mon 6 Jun 2005
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Scot dies 1,200 feet from achieving his dream


Key points
American-Scot Dr Robert Milne, 49, dies attempting to climb Everest
Dr Milne testing new climbing technology on final day of climbing season
Distraught wife says he would have wanted to be laid to rest on mountain

Key quote
"We are just very shocked, but we know he was doing something he loved doing and was in a place he wanted to be in. He had felt very fit and well up until now, which is why it is such a shock" - Valerie Milne

Story in full A SCOTTISH computer scientist who was hours away from completing his lifetime's ambition of climbing the world's highest mountains collapsed and died on the slopes of Everest.

Robert Milne, 49, was only 1,200 feet short of the 29,035ft (8,850-metre) peak when he and his colleagues paused for a rest.

But, as he stood up to continue his ascent, he collapsed. By the time other members of the team - including three doctors - reached him, he was dead.

The experienced climber was finishing a 25-year challenge to conquer the highest peaks on all seven continents. He had already climbed Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Elbrus in Russia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Denali in North America and Aconcagua in South America.

He set himself the challenge when a PhD student in Edinburgh, and had just one more mountain to climb - Everest.

Last night, his distraught wife said that her husband had died doing something he loved. Speaking from the family home in Bathgate, West Lothian, Valerie Milne, 49, said: "We are just very shocked, but we know he was doing something he loved doing and was in a place he wanted to be in. He had felt very fit and well up until now, which is why it is such a shock."

She said he would have wanted to be laid to rest on Everest. "To him, that would be the most wonderful place," she said. "He'd always wanted to complete this challenge and it was very important to him."

Mrs Milne, who was being comforted by the couple's two children, Alex, 21, and Rosemary, 19, said they had heard that he had begun to lag behind his group and then collapsed.

"He collapsed very suddenly and when they got to him there were no vital signs. They were at 8,400 metres, so they couldn't stay about," she said.

She described her husband, an entrepreneur, scientist and well-known figure in the Scottish Mountaineering Club, as a "very positive person" who spent his weekends climbing.

A spokesman for the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which Mr Milne was a fellow, said he was "extremely saddened".

Yesterday was the final day of the climbing season on the notoriously difficult mountain.

Dave Morris, the president of the Mountain Protection Commission, spoke of his sadness at Dr Milne's death and said Everest presented "an extremely difficult challenge", even for experienced mountaineers.

"It sounds like Dr Milne had altitude problems and at that height, it gets difficult to breathe," he said.

In his final entry in his weblog diary, dated 27 May, Dr Milne spoke of his hopes that the ascent could go ahead. Holed up at base camp because of strong winds, he told friends and family: "Crossing fingers didn't work before, so please think of something else! Otherwise in good spirits and health. Back to my book ..."

Officials in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, said they were trying to establish how he died. They were still awaiting details, but it was believed his party had been hampered by bad weather during the ascent.

Dr Milne had been testing life-saving technology designed by Edinburgh University to help climbers adversely affected by altitude sickness. Called IM-PACS, it allows climbers to plan expeditions more effectively. It also enabled Dr Milne to keep friends and family up-to-date on his position and any variations on the route.

Born in Montana in the United States and brought up in Colorado, Dr Milne came to Edinburgh to do his PhD. He met his wife there and they married in 1981.

An expert in artificial intelligence, he returned to the US and worked for the Pentagon before returning to Scotland to set up his own company, Intelligence Applications.

He was the third person this year to die trying to scale Everest. Last month, an American died after falling into a crevasse, while a Canadian died after an apparent heart attack.


Robert Milne kept a detailed internet diary of his team's attempt on Everest.

14 April: Base Camp! I have been feeling well enough that I arrived at base camp one day early. More incredible than I ever imagined.
22 April: Just back from two days up The Hill. We went up the icefall for the first time on Monday. Great fun actually. This is the highest I have ever slept.
1 May: I had been told that the climb up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3 was one of the hardest days of the expedition - and it was. One of the worst blizzards I had been in for a long time!
6 May: Just down from a couple of days at Camp 2. Now starts the recovery and wait for the summit window. I wasn't caught up in the big avalanche at Camp 1.
11 May: Having come back to base camp on the hope there was a break in the winds, the latest forecast says there isn't one. So the wait continues. A bit frustrating, but that is the way of the big mountains.
17 May: There is a glint of good weather, so we are going up to Camp 2 and will eventually try for the summit the night of the 20th. I've got my oxygen regulator and gear all packed. Fingers crossed!
21 May: There we were at Camp 3 ready to go to the South Col for the summit attempt, then we got the latest weather forecast. So back to Base Camp.
23 May: Across all the teams there is a strong feeling of despair. The weather is not co-operating.
27 May: A glint of dropping winds and a chance to go for the top. The long range forecast says we have a good chance the first few days of June. Around June they have to close the icefall as it gets too warm, so it is down to the wire and getting late. Otherwise in good spirits and health. Back to my book…

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