Phil Crampton Interview taken in 2010
Phil Crampton, a guide for Altitude Junkies is one of the most experienced and active 8000-meter guides presently working in the Himalayas. He has led over thirty Himalayan expeditions including twenty-one 8000-meter expeditions including Everest, summiting from both the Nepal and Tibet sides, Cho Oyu, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Manaslu and Shishapangma.
What made you decide to become a mountain guide?
I started climbing in the Himalayas way back and was instantly drawn to the expedition lifestyle. After participating in various commercial expeditions I decided that there was a huge void in the market between the budget and expensive expeditions.
This is where the idea for the Altitude Junkies came from. I prefer to call myself an expedition expediter rather than a guide in the traditional sense. I oversee all the logistics and staff allowing my team members to focus on their climbing and not have to concern themselves with all the details involved with a large-scale expedition. I offer advice based on my experience during the expeditions, but in all honesty, all climbers have to self reliant to be able to get up any hill.
You have climbed on mountains such as Aconcagua, Cho Oyu, Denali, Mount Everest, Gasherbrum I & ll, Kang Guru, Manaslu, Mustagh Ata, Pumori and Shishapangma. Do you have a favorite and why?
I used to have a fondness towards Cho Oyu as I have been on 7 expeditions there in the past. I climbed with a good friend of mine on Cho Oyu in 2000. He unfortunately died in the Khumbu Icefall on Everest some years later and thereafter, when I visited Cho Oyu, it always reminded me of him. We had a lot of fun on that trip and it’s a great way to remember him and his brother and their epic 3-day descent from the summit. Cho Oyu has become too busy in recent years in my opinion, and with the constant changing permit requirements and access issues to Tibet, I am not sure if I will climb on her again. I must admit that I really enjoy the Everest season. It starts for me in late February, when I arrive in Kathmandu, and it signals the start of the climbing year for me. Pakistan is just an amazing place and every climber needs to make a point to at least trek up to Concordia and see the splendor of the Karakoram, but every mountain has a special characteristic.
You have reached the summit of Mount Everest from both the Nepal and Tibet side. Which side do you prefer?
I don’t really have a favorite side of the mountain, but each side has it pros and cons. The north side was always an obvious choice for the budget conscious climber, so there would always be some oddball folks keeping us entertained each season. The majority of the commercial teams decided to stay on the south so there was not a huge amount of cooperation between the teams on the north with the fixing of the ropes. The independent climbers would get into trouble and expect the commercial teams there to help out. The base camp in Tibet is a harsh place to spend two months. The constant wind howling through base camp is relentless and dust seems to get everywhere. The south side has a warmer base camp, and we have a good community with the large commercial groups all working for a common goal. There is less time spent on the mountain on the north side but high camp is real high.
How did you find ascending and descending the Second Step?
I learnt to climb a ladder while cleaning windows as one of my part-time jobs as a teenager so the second step came natural to me sans the bucket and squeegee.
Out of your three times on the summit of Mount Everest did you ever feel scared about starting your descent?
I should have had at least five summits to date, but unfortunately I have had to descend close to the summit on two separate occasions when team members have needed assistance descending. I have never personally felt scared about my own safety but have been very concerned with some of the climbers I have witnessed still ascending very late in the day, while we are nearly back at the respective high camp. Helping down a semi-conscious climber in the dark on a 12-inch ledge on the Northeast ridge has its moments.
Have you ever guided anyone on Mount Everest who you feel should not have been there?
I have been very fortunate to climb on Everest six times previously with 2010 making my seventh expedition. Each of these expeditions I have been working in some capacity, helping others reach the top. Some of the climbers have had no experience whatsoever; whereas others have climbed multiple 8,000-meter peaks previously. I would like to think that most climbers are honest with their experience and aspirations, but some aren’t. I had to assist a climber in the past that have never worn crampons before arriving at base camp. I would like to say that this climber was not on an Altitude Junkies expedition.
Dead or alive, which climber would you like to stand on the summit of Mount Everest with and why?
Doug Scott is the man. We are both born in the same city of Nottingham and I think he never received the recognition that was due to him and was bestowed on other climbers and explorers, some were even knighted. I think Mr. Scott should be knighted like that other great gentleman from Nottingham, Mr. Paul Smith. While were at it, how about Mr. Brian Clough being knighted post-humus, even though he wasn’t born in Nottingham, he did a lot for the City. Doug Scott and the other old school British climbers were hardcore. Drinking and smoking all the way to the summit. I’m not saying that behavior is now the ideal role model for the future generations of climbers, but they had fun. I would like to meet Mr. Scott one day and learn from his experiences.
Have you personally had any close calls while on Mount Everest?
If I mentioned my close calls my wife would insist I stop climbing.
In the last 50 years climbing equipment has got smaller and lighter. Do you think this has made climbing Mount Everest any easier?
A lot of people who have never climbed Everest like to point out that it’s easy and a tourist climb. I think it’s a very challenging peak and I think the summits have increased and fatalities have dropped due to many factors, gear being one of them. The boots are now lighter and warmer than the original One Sport boots that I just retired last season. Down suits get warmer and lighter and we have a better understanding of oxygen systems, although 2009 saw a lot of new style mask failures due to the cold temperature experienced on summit day. The weather forecasts have become much more detailed and accurate and this I think is the biggest factor for increased success recently on Everest.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
Having climbed the Second Step on several occasions (using the ladder), I think they actually made it to the top that fateful day. Once a climber is over the Second Step it’s a short distance and easy terrain to the summit on the now established normal route on the Northeast Ridge. I think they were so close and their determination would have probably made them overcome this section of the climb. Several modern day climbers have climbed this section without the ladder so it could have been done back then I think. I would like to think they reached the top.