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AS LIFE SLIPS AWAY, CLIMBER TALKS CALMLY WITH HIS WIFE

Trapped by a blizzard near the summit of Mount Everest, mountain guide Rob Hall stoically accepted his fate when he learned by radio that rescuers would not be able to reach him.

He then called his pregnant wife in New Zealand and told her "not to worry about him too much," reassuring her so she was able to sleep even as his life ebbed.Hall, 36, had just completed his fifth ascent of the world's highest mountain when he was trapped Friday by howling winds, bitter cold and snow on the way down. He died Saturday night, having stayed with ailing American climber Doug Hansen, who also died, rather than try to descend to safety.

They were among eight climbers believed to have perished in the blizzard, one of the worst disasters on Everest since it was first conquered in 1953.

Twenty-two people survived, including Sandy Hill Pittman, estranged wife of MTV founder Bob Pittman.

Five of the 11 expeditions that were on Everest when the blizzard struck returned to the base of the mountain by Monday, Nepalese authorities said. They could not say whether all attempts had halted to reach the summit.

Members of Hall's expedition said Tuesday that Sherpa rescuers had clawed their way to within 650 feet of him before turning back Saturday, fearing for their lives in the ferocious storm. They left oxygen and a thermos on a ridge below him.

With Hansen's corpse beside him in a snow hole, Hall used his fading radio to link up with a satellite telephone at the base of the mountain to speak to his wife, Jan Arnold, in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Arnold told reporters Tuesday that her husband's last message was "not to worry about him too much."

"He managed to impart some peacefulness to me, because I slept for six or seven hours," said Arnold, who is seven months pregnant with the couple's first child.

"Rob reported he was frostbitten, weak and tired but he was trying to use some of the little oxygen left to get down."

On Sunday night, she let go of the last glimmer of hope her husband was alive.

"I thought he might take 10 hours to descend," she said. "But when I heard about three or four hours later that he was still up there and that he was too weak to climb down, my heart sank."

Another guide in Hall's expedition said he reacted philosophically to news that another rescue could not be attempted until Sun-day.

Hall was in radio contact with base camp and described his condition and talked to friends and his wife, who had climbed Everest with him in 1993, Guy Cotter said in a message faxed to Christchurch from the Everest base camp Tuesday.

"Rob took the news stoically that rescue wouldn't happen until the following day, stating he would wait," Cotter said in his message to Hall's Christchurch company.