James Ketchell Interview taken in 2016
On 1st February 2014, James became the first and only person to have rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, successfully summited Mount Everest and cycled 18,000 miles around the world in what the media dubbed “The Ultimate Triathlon”.
You climbed Mount Everest in 2011 via the South East Ridge route. Did you ever consider the North side of the mountain?
I did not consider the North side as an option as I was climbing with a friend who had already successfully climbed Everest five times from the south side. My intention was always to climb from the south side. I would like to check out the North side though.
Which did you find the hardest, ascending or desending the Hillary Step?
For me descending was certainly harder than ascending. Having said that it was still hard work pulling myself up and over the Hillary Step. I was exhausted but very excited as I was very close to the summit, and at that point I just knew in my gut that I was going to make the summit.
I have seen many photographs from the 1990’s and 2000’s of the South Col Camp with hundreds of empty oxygen bottles scattered around. Was it still like that in 2011?
When I arrived at the South Col I was absolutely exhausted so all I can really remember was just getting straight into my tent. I do however remember the next morning and leaving the South Col. I personally don’t recall seeing that many, I think I might have seen one or two, but the area itself was fairly clean. There were one or two abandon torn tents but that’s about it. I don’t think Everest as a whole is that untidy anymore as there has been a lot of effort made to clear things up.
On your descent from the summit of Mount Everest you had breathing problems and could hardly stand up. If it was not for Sherpa Dorje, do you think you would have made it down to Base Camp?
I will never forget Dorje, that is a very interesting question which has gone through my mind many times actually. I’d like to think that I would have but the truth is I really don’t know. He is an amazing man and I think it’s fair to say that I probably do owe my life to him. I will never ever forget him, shouting and swearing at me to keep moving, now I look back that was required to keep me moving. I have seen Dorje a few times since 2011. I’m not sure it would be possible but I’d love to repay him by brining him and his family over to the UK at some point.
Were you nervous about going into the Ice fall for the first time?
I actually wasn’t nervous at all, I was in fact really excited. I knew it was dangerous but I couldn’t do anything about that. I just concentrated on staying focused and moving through it as quickly and as carefully as possible. I believe if something is out of your control then there is really no point wasting time and energy thinking about it. I just knew I needed to be alert.
Could you ever imagine Mount Everest without the amazing Sherpas?
No I think the Sherpas are the people that really make Everest and any high altitude mountaineering expedition. Having spent a fair bit of time on the mountain, I think it’s the Sherpas that give the mountain it’s character.
While on Everest which did you find the hardest to deal with, the physical side of the climb or the mental side?
For me I found Everest physically very hard, it felt like I was constantly at the end of a 100m sprint even when I was doing very little. Mentally I never had any problems, I guess I thought, if I can survive 110 days alone in a rowing boat on the Atlantic ocean, I should be ok for six weeks on Everest. I was always around other people on Everest and had a fantastic climbing partner as well as Dorje.
This year (2016) a 12 year old boy was denied a climbing permit for Mount Everest. What are your views on things like this?
Now this is a very interesting debate, having spent a fair bit of time on the mountain and taking into account all the skilled sherpas and guides that would be looking after him, he would probably be ok. Who knows if he could get to the summit or not but it’s one of these situations where it’s all good and very exciting until something goes wrong. I think a lot of people would agree that perhaps there is something a little irresponsible about letting a child that young attempt Everest, even if he was in good hands. If I had a twelve year old son I would certainly let him trek to base camp with me but I would not let him onto the mountain to go higher until he was a fair bit older. That’s just me and I guess there will always be mixed opinions on this.
Did you have any problems with ‘traffic’ or ‘over crowding’ while on Mount Everest?
I was incredibly lucky, it was just myself and Dorje that stood on the summit at 8.30am local time on 16th May 2011. I was the last person to summit that day, I have no idea how many people summited that morning but it certainty wasn’t many. Maybe you can find out Colin, I’d be interested to know.
What was your time on the summit like?
I’m often asked this and the honest answer is I don’t remember that much about it, I was so tired and fatigued. I of course knew what was going on and where I was but I was just going through the motions when I think back. Dorje and I stood there for about 10 minutes taking some pictures, then started to make our descent. It really hit me that I had stood on top of the world when I was laying in hospital back in the UK with a severe lung infection. Doctors were approaching my bedside asking to shake my hand as they had heard that I’d just flown back in that morning from Nepal and I’d made it to the top.
Before climbing Mount Everest what mountaineering experience had you have?
I had climbed in Nepal and the Alps but I had no experience over 8,000 meters. I was just very lucky when I was on Everest. There really is a lot of luck required to make it to the top and back. It’s not really about being a tough guy! Everest taught me to never judge a book by it’s cover, the strongest people are not always the people you might think.
Your book “The Ultimate Triathlon” is out now. Can you tell us what it is about and where we can buy a copy from?
My first book “The Ultimate Triathlon” is a story from when I had a motorcycle racing accident at just over 115mph and finding myself in a wheelchair for six months, to rowing the Atlantic, climbing Mt Everest and cycling around the world. It took me a year to write and at times it would have probably been easier to climb Everest again than write the book, but I was determined and just kept going, no different to climbing Everest really. A precise application of will is required to do anything worth talking about. The book can be purchased through my website here at www.jamesketchell.net/shop
Out of all the amazing adventures you have done which is your favourite?
That’s a tough one as they are all so different and each one was great in it’s own way. However, I think that cycling around the world would probably be up there as the favourite. The people I met and the places I cycled through were amazing.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
I think they reached the summit, it’s one of the greatest mountaineering mysterious. Even if we had the technology to find out what happened, I personally think it’s best left unknown. I often found myself thinking about them and many other climbers whilst I was on the mountain.
If you would like to find out more about James Ketchell then head over to his website at www.jamesketchell.net