Kenton Cool Interview taken in 2008
British mountain guide Kenton Cool has amazingly reached the summit of Mount Everest six times. He is the first and only European to achieve this.
You have reached the summit of Everest six times via the South Col – South East Ridge. Have you thought about climbing via a different route?
My first impression of Everest when I was younger came from Sir Chris Bonnington’s book ‘Everest the Hardway’. I thought it was really cool to climb such a mountain by a route like the SW face. A huge undertaking that had some hard climbing on it. As my personal climbing developed I found myself more interested in alpine style climbing rather than big style expeditions. Now although a handful of people have taken alpine style climbing to 8000m peaks it’s a very limited and dangerous activity at such altitudes and almost impossible to climb technically hard which is what I personally prefer to do when I’m climbing for myself.
So it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be on Everest for any reason other than work. Everest for me has become work, (a horrid thing to say about such a mountain which holds dreams for so many), and as such my clients expect the best service. By returning to the same route I have the odds stack more in my favor. I know the route, the staff, the way the mountain works and this removes some of the guiding pressures, leaving me to be able to look after the clients that little bit more. You can never turn your back on any mountain, lower your guard once and that when it will bite you, and in the case of Everest it will bite hard, but I feel that I have the best knowledge of the mountain I can have…at least for that route. Also from a work point I believe that trying to get someone who is ill or injured down the SE Ridge is a much easier prospect than the N Ridge (The other route that is guided) again giving a slightly great degree of safety on the mountain.
As we all know the weather on Everest can change in an instance. Out of the six times you have been on the summit how many times did you have a good view with clear sky?
Ha Ha well got to say that I’ve had a good view each time. The only time that was a little cloudy and snowy was 2006 but even then we had breaks in the clouds, which made it a moody surreal day up there.
Your lungs must be use to the high altitude by now, would you consider climbing Mount Everest without the use of supplementary oxygen?
The thought has popped into my mind but for me Everest is work and I offer a service as well as having a duty of care to the clients. Due to that all of the guides who work for Dream Guides on the mountain use O2…myself included
You have guided Sir Ranulph Fiennes on Everest twice. Was it as much of a disappointment to you as it was to him that he has failed to reach the summit?
Its interesting that folk think that I was with him in 2005, I was in fact on the South side and Ran on the North. Despite his age and some critics from certain people I had total belief that Ran would get to the top and that’s the reason why Dream Guides agreed to guide him. I had spent almost 5 years climbing with Ran and I thought the style of the expedition and the climb would have suited his polar plod (slow and steady).Last year when he turned around it was the most gut wrenching guiding moment I’ve ever had, I physically felt sick, so much time and energy putting a trip together to be put out in an instant. But the team went on to put the Marie Curie flag on the top and that is what we were there to do. We were Team Marie Curie, not team Ranulph Fiennes. It’s always upsetting not to get the whole team to the top, but mountaineering is not a sport of certainty. Immediately after the expedition I felt a sense of failure to get my friend and client to the top and this weighed heavy on me for sometime, but now I look back at the expedition in 08 and view it as a success even though Ran didn’t make the top.
High altitude mountaineering gear has to be able to withstand some of the harshest conditions on earth. Is there any piece of equipment that you would like to see change in some way to make your life easier?
The best thing would be a cable car up to camp 1….the walk back down at the end of the season is a killer!!!Seriously equipment has come on so much, even in the time span that I have been climbing. Every thing has become lighter, stronger, and warmer making the job of the climber that little bit easier. There are still some things out there which we’d all like to see improved but hey that’s what we have at the moment and we simply have to life with them.
Have you ever been in the situation on any mountain where you have thought ‘this is it, I’m going to die’?
I’m sure there are but those moments seem to be erased from the mind. A good friend of mine once said that climbing is a retrospective sport. Most of the time we are in mortal fear of falling and getting hurt, suffering physical pain or exhaustion only to get home to safety and proclaim the whole affair great. I know there have been times on the lead when I have thought sh*t if I fall now, if the axe rips, crampon point pulls out then, that’s it, but somehow it always seems in control…. Just.
Are there any other 8000m mountains that you would like to climb?
I’d love to try the true S Face of Annapurna such an amazing face, huge committing and totally on the edge of alpine style climbing, I climbed Annapurna III in 2003 and we had stunning views of the S Face all the way up our route. There is also the W Ridge of Makalu that must be one of the best lines in the world anywhere!!
On Mount Everest have you ever come across a climber who you feel should not be on the mountain?
Where to start! Every year there are many people on Everest who really shouldn’t be there, people who don’t have the skill or knowledge to look after themselves with out the help of others around them. Its one thing buying onto a professionally lead trip where the client is vetted and only allowed on the mountain with a reasonable level of competence but completely another when you see people having never put on crampons before thinking that they should be allowed to continue up the mountain. What on earth makes these people think they have the right; these people would never even get to Base Camp if it wasn’t for the Sherpa crews that are around them.
Climbing is a sport open to all and no mountain should be regimented but sometimes I really think that some people should be marched off the mountain. I don’t have a problem with folk putting themselves at risk but when others are put at risk on their behalf due to their lack of training, skill or knowledge then this is totally unacceptable. Every year Sherpa’s are employed to look after people who have no real right to be on the mountain, and its these Sherpa’s who are at risk from frostbite, injury or death due to the incompetence of the western climbers who think they belong somewhere they don’t…its something that can really wind me up!!
If you had a choice which would it be, a hot sunny beach or Everest Base Camp?
That’s an easy one. Everest base camp anytime, but it is for an odd reason. I have a slightly strange fear of sand and as such I find it very hard to feel at ease on a beach. I’ve also had so many great times at BC that it holds a special place for me. Every time I step on the glacier it really does feel like I’m coming home.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
A mystery that I believe we will never know the answer of and perhaps it’s best if we don’t know the answer.
If you would like to find out more about Kenton Cool then head over to his website at www.dream-guides.com