The West

Grieving mum brings son home

It was Mother's Day this year when Margaret Allpress received the phone call she had been dreading since her son Matthew vanished while trekking in Nepal six months earlier.

An elderly villager foraging for a rare plant in the remote Himalayan foothills had stumbled on human remains and with them were her son's wallet, phone and jacket.

The discovery brought an end to the family's desperate search for the popular Perth man, who was just 23.

But how he died still remains a mystery.

After finally bringing her boy home and before his memorial service on Friday, Mrs Allpress spoke this week about how she co-ordinated the land and air search over the vast, unforgiving terrain of a country foreign to her.

The nightmare began for Margaret and Mark Allpress and their younger son Michael, 21, when Matt failed to arrive on a flight on November 15.

The Curtin University creative design graduate, who was raised in Winthrop and went to Aquinas College, was due to return home after an adventure through Europe, Turkey, India and Nepal.

After completing part of the Annapurna circuit, the young traveller who loved a challenge - he once skateboarded from Wellington to Auckland with a friend - set off on a solo trek through the centre of the region on November 3. Messaging his family from a guesthouse in the village of Sikles, he said he would be out of contact for up to 11 days as he trekked towards Dudh Pokhari, more than 5300m above sea level.

Mrs Allpress' last message to her son was: "I hope you're not going alone."

"I didn't want him to do this trek; I had a horrible feeling about it," she told _The Weekend West _this week.

"He went trekking alone and that was the fatal mistake."

Alarm bells starting ringing when Matt failed to arrive in Sydney as planned and on November 17 his father reported him missing.

Three days later, Mrs Allpress flew to Nepal, where she would spend a month moving between Kathmandu and Pokhara, "jumping up and down" to get the attention of authorities, plastering "missing" posters along trek routes and, after several unconfirmed sightings, wandering the streets of Kathmandu at night looking for Matt in the crowds.

She even tracked down a man some had thought to be her son and while she could see the resemblance, handsome, with a bushy beard and top knot, it only added to her heartache.

The search continued, with high-altitude sherpas, dog- assisted search-and-rescue teams, local police and, sometimes, just the Allpress family driving a Jeep as high up along the trek routes as they could manage.

"The hardest part at first was when I flew up with the search teams and then had to come back. I felt like I was turning my back," she said.

It was even harder in December when Mrs Allpress returned to Britain, where she has lived for the past few years, after the search was suspended for winter.

But her immense strength was bolstered by support from the Nepalese locals, as well as family, friends and strangers from across the world who helped raise $55,000 in less than a month for the "Find Matt" fund, established by his friends to meet some of the costs.

After a torturous wait, the family returned to Nepal in April. On the eve of a new search, Matt's body was found near Misa Camp, seven hours walk above Sikles village.

"The trek came to a fork, one is wide, one is narrow," Mrs Allpress said.

"The signpost at the fork was broken and a tree was on top of it. Matt took the wide one, and it was the wrong one.

"He was found about two metres off the track."

Although the months of not knowing had been torture, the discovery put an end to the family's hope.

"Sometimes I would think when I was in limbo that I wish I knew one way or the other," Mrs Allpress said.

"But when I knew, I wish I'd been back in limbo because there was always hope he was alive."

While in Nepal, Mrs Allpress met the parents of several other hikers still missing, and the families joined forces to raise awareness about the dangers of trekking alone.

When Michael Allpress retraced his big brother's steps recently, he did so with a guide and porters.

Mrs Allpress believes Matt underestimated the difficulty of the trek he was going on and she wants the various routes to be graded - the same way ski runs are - according to difficulty.

Questions remain as to how Matt died but his family hope an autopsy done in Perth may provide some answers.

In the meantime, his mother is preparing for next week's memorial service, and taking solace in the messages she continues to receive from people all over the world who met Matt during his travels and shared their fond memories of the man she describes as "her lifeline".

Visiting a mural in Brookfield Place this week, which friends Johanna Cary and Corey James dedicated to Matt, Mrs Allpress said she was "so glad she could bring him home".

"It's what I set out to do," she said.

"I wasn't coming back without him."

He went trekking alone and that was the fatal mistake."Margaret Allpress

The West Australian

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