UKclimber Kenton Cool will fulfil vow to take medic ArthurWakefield's Olympic medal toHimalayas90 years after tragic prior expedition
Peter Beaumont. The Observer, Sunday 1 April 2012
British mountaineer Kenton Cool was sitting in the check-in lounge at Gatwick airport last Thursday with a locked waterproof box that, if all goes according to plan, will not leave his side until he reaches Everest's summit for a 10th time this spring.
The box contains the Olympic medal awarded to Arthur Wakefield, a medic on the unsuccessful 1922 Everest expedition that ended in tragedy when an avalanche killed seven porters.
If Cool succeeds in climbing the world's highest mountain again, he will have honoured a pledge by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lisle Strutt, deputy leader of the pioneering 1922 expedition, made to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who awarded the climbers medals at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix. Strutt promised to return to Everest and take a medal to the summit, something he never managed.
The attraction of Everest to Cool remains undimmed even if he is ambivalent about aspects of its commercialisation. A professional mountain guide who has climbed Everest more times than any otherUKclimber, Cool was also the first Briton to ski down an 8,000m peak.
"I still really like Everest. I enjoy working with my Sherpa friends. I get to see people at base camp – friends like American climbers who I never see except there. It feels a bit like escapism."
Cool is pragmatic, too. The high prices paid by clients to climb on Everest and the media attention that surrounds every Everest season has allowed him the freedom to be more selective about what he does in his own climbing and what guiding he does in a gruelling profession.
"When I first met my wife Jazz a few years ago she was clever about it and asked me where I saw myself in five, 10 years. I said I wanted to be climbing. When we got to 20 years, she said: 'You'll be crippled by then [by the punishing strain of guiding].'"
In some respects it is remarkable that Cool has done as much as he has. In 1996, he suffered a serious accident in Snowdonia, shattering the bones in his heels and damaging his ankles, which forced him to take a year out of the sport. He still has metal in his limbs, finds running difficult and struggles, he says, with an awkward gait. Despite that he will run one of the relays with the Olympic torch inLondonon 23 July.
After his recovery, Cool was recruited as an Everest lead guide after an ascent of a new route on Annapurna III – which saw his team nominated for the Piolet d'Or mountaineering award.
In an interview last year he recalled reaching the world's highest point for the first time. "The first client was just behind me, so I had five minutes at the top to savour the moment. It was a great sunny day so I sat there trying to pick out all the other nearby mountains. It was a mind-blowing moment."
This year he will be climbing only with a cameraman to record the ascent with the Olympic medal. "I didn't guide during my ascent last year either. I went up to prove that you could make a 3G call from the summit. With no clients it felt very free. I did the whole round trip in 23 days. It was wonderful."
As well as Everest, Cool has guided the polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes up the north face of the Eiger.
What has been less easy, he admits, has been taking leave of his wife Jazz and 22-month-old daughter Saffron. "That was very difficult. I think for the wives and girlfriends who stay behind it is much harder. When you are on the mountain you have to be on top of your game to make sure that no one gets injured."
Two years ago, one of his clients, Bonita Norris, 22, fell close to the summit and lost the feeling in her legs, necessitating a gruelling rescue.
He is not sure he is finished with Everest yet. Next year marks the 60th anniversary since the first ascent by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, and Cool would like to be involved with that
Kenton's Olympic Everest bid will be 'an emotional ride'
Bob Smith, Editor
Kenton Cool holds Arthur Wakefield's gold medal. Photo: Vitty Robinson
The British climber who has stood on the world’s highest summit more times than any of his countrymen is setting off on an Everest attempt that will be one his most special ascents.
Kenton Cool will board a plane this morning forNepal, carrying with him a precious disc of gold that he hopes will be in his pocket when he stands on the summit of the 8,848m (29,029ft) peak.
If the 38-year-old Gloucestershire-based mountaineer makes it to the top of Everest, not only will it extend his record of ascents to 10, but will also fulfil an Olympic pledge made 88 years ago.
It will, he says, be an emotional moment.
The World Mountain Guide will take with him an Olympic medal awarded to Arthur Wakefield, a member of a 1922 expedition which got within a few hundred metres of the top of Everest before turning back.
We spoke to Kenton Cool as he prepared for the expedition, which he hopes will see the climbing team set off for the summit push some time in May.
“I’m busy frantically trying to pack as we speak,” he said. “I always leave things to the last minute; it seems to work.”
He explained he and his friend Richard Robinson have been planning this year’s project for two years, ever since Robinson, a childhood friend of Cool’s wife Jazz, came across the pledge made by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lisle Strutt, deputy leader of the 1922 expedition, to Baron Pierre de Coubertin at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix.
De Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympic Games and awarded gold medals to all the members of the 1922 expedition at the inaugural winter games.
Strutt pledged that he would return to Everest and take the medal to the summit – a promise he was unable to keep.
The gold medal that will be heading toNepalwas handed to Kenton Cool inCanadaby the grandson of Arthur Wakefield.
Richard Robinson told us this expedition probably means more to Cool than anything else he has accomplished.
Summitnumber nine came last year. Cool's tenth, if it comes, will be special
“I’d probably agree with that,” the climber said. “Obviously the first time I ever went up there, the last 20 or 30 steps were incredibly special.
“But we’ve been working on this story for two years. One of the things that got me climbing was reading about the climbers in the 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions. What these guys did was amazing when you consider the gear they had, the boots the equipment – absolutely incredible.
“I remember being quite young and thinking wow, that’s so cool; I want to be an adventurer, a climber like that.
“So to have an expedition now that directly honours those guys of 1922 is really important to me – really, really important.”
The team, which includes a top cameraman, will use the traditional route up Everest.
Cool said: “I’m going up the standard South-East Ridge, the route that Hillary and Tenzing took in 1953.
“In the team I’ve got Keith Partridge, who’s the cameraman who did Touching the Void and The Beckoning Silence. He’s going to record it all, which is going to be incredibly exciting.
“We’ve got a very good friend of mine who’s raising money for St James’s Place Foundation. He’s trying to raise half a million quid.
“And then it’s just my tried and trusted Sherpa friends.
“There will probably be six of us in our summit push.”
He said he is grateful to his sponsor Samsung, who also provided support for last year’s Everest expedition, which saw him Tweeting from the summit using a 3G signal for the first time.
“Samsung have been incredible coming on board to finance the whole thing,” he said. “Everest expeditions are not cheap, but Samsung have done an amazing job of providing me with a platform to do what I want to do.”
He added: “This is so special, it really is – 2012, the Olympics come toLondon– that’s going to be amazing. Unfortunately, climbing’s not really represented any more but climbing and mountaineering encompassed everything Coubertin wanted in the Olympics.
“It’s going to be an emotional ride. Fingers crossed, if we do it, it’s going to be a very, very special summit.
“I think it will be the knowledge that I’ve got a medal in my pocket that was awarded to a very, very special man, Arthur Wakefield. He was a phenomenal person, the one who was perhaps overlooked in that 1922 expedition.
“If you read anything about Arthur Wakefield he was this amazing character. He was a medic; he did some amazing things on the Western Front in the First World War.
“To have this medal which was awarded for his efforts and everybody else’s efforts in the 1922 expedition is going to make it incredible.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy anyway. I’ve been known to burst into tears at the top; it’s all swirling round.
“Then to have this other story – in my mind, it’s such an important thing. We kind of forget what happened in the past sometimes and it’s going to be a very emotional moment and I can’t even begin to think what it will be like.”
Cool knows Everest's summit well. Photo: Sotti CC-BY-SA-3.0
As someone who has made it to the summit of Everest nine times, he is familiar with the elation of getting to the roof of the world.
He said: “When you come over that final little section, I can see it now: you come round a little limestone outcrop, go round it then you just go up a very gentle slope and it plateaus out and it’s then only about 200 yards to the summit and that’s when you know you are going to make it.
“I think getting there in May this year with medal burning a hole against my thigh, it’s just going to be something quite special.”
Richard Robinson, whose mountaineering exploits extend only as far as tackling the Three Peaks Challenge, said the team had already had a goodwill message from Michael Palin on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and he said it is rumoured London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games boss Lord Coe would be quite pleased to receive a phone call from the summit.
The British Mountaineering Council also gave the Olympic Pledge expedition its thumbs-up, saying: “ In doing so we hope the venture will help foster the adventurous spirit in others and inspire them to similar enterprises on Everest and other mountains.”
It’s a wish Kenton Cool shares. He told us: “My big thing is trying to get people into the outdoors. I’m passionate about the outdoors; I’m a mountain guide and I’m hoping that by getting behind the pledge and participating, we can get the next generation of climbers, mountaineers, hillwalkers out there and climbing their own little hills to start with.
“Then there will be some new person smashing all my records.”
Kenton Cool: 'passionate about the outdoors'
He joked about his advancing years. “I’m getting quite old,” he said. But there are many mountaineers climbing at ages way beyond his.
He added: “A guy I’m always massively impressed with is Victor Saunders. He’s now 62 or 63. He guided Everest the year before last and I think he’s going again this year. He’s in his 60s and he’s still capable of going to the top – incredible.”
He hopes to involve as many people as possible in the effort. “What’s going to be great too is you can pretty much follow it all online. Samsung have done an amazing job and they’re trying to get everyone to participate in it.
“We’re going to be Tweeting all the way. The Tweets will be coming in thick and fast and there will be fairly regular blogs on the Samsung website and on my own personal website as well.”
One of the hardest things for him, he said in one of his most recent Tweets, is leaving behind his daughter Saffron.
Kenton Cool, Keith Partridge and the rest of the expedition members are expected to set off from Base Camp on 14 April and will attempt to supply photos, blogs and Tweets, which will be uploaded to the Samsung site and Cool’s own website.