Rob Gauntlett: Mountaineer who became the youngest Briton to climb Everest

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The Independent Online

Before his shockingly untimely death at the age of 21, Rob Gauntlett had become the youngest Briton to climb Everest, travelled from Pole to Pole using only human and natural power, and succeeded in many other daunting ventures. He seemed to be a young man with the capability to conquer the world. He certainly had the ambition to do so, delivering as he did inspirational lectures on the theme that nothing is impossible. But his life was dramatically and tragically cut short on Mont Blanc's icy east slope when he died along with a friend, James Atkinson, who was also 21, on an ascent during a climbing holiday.

Many of the internet tributes paid to him, most of them from young people clearly affected by his early demise, illustrate how stimulating and infectious his enthusiasm had been to them. "I was so inspired by what you said when you came to our school," wrote one pupil. "You made me believe anything is possible. You brought a positive and happy attitude to our assembly and none of us could stop talking about it for days after."

Communicating such enthusiasm was a prime aim of Gauntlett and his partner on the Everest climb, James Hooper. As their website put it, they wanted "to ignite a flame in everyone we meet which pushes them to utilise their talents and achieve their ambitions." Hooper was also on the Mont Blanc trip, but he and a companion had set off on another route and abandoned their climb because of adverse weather conditions.

"The weather suddenly cleared up but by that time it was too late for us to start our route and we decided to come down," he said. "Then Rob and James stayed up there and they were trying to do a big route and fell." They died on the sometimes dangerous Gervasutti Couloir, on the mountain's east face above the resort of Chamonix.

Gauntlett, Atkinson, Hooper and Hooper's climbing partner, Richard Lebon, had all been pupils at Christ's Hospital school at Horsham in Sussex. Gauntlett's first major adventure was to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, then he and Hooper climbed together in Scotland, France and Pakistan. The two were 19 when they ascended Everest in 2006, Rob a week after his birthday.

In May 2008 the same pair completed a gruelling journey which took them from the North Pole to the South Pole. It involved skiing, dog-sledding, cycling and sailing on a journey which took them through Greenland, America, Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina. One incident on the trip illustrated that the life they had chosen had very real risks, when Gauntlett lost consciousness for three hours after falling through melting ice. He described his exploits as "extreme adventures, extreme dreams."

The trip, which was aimed at raising awareness of climate change, won them the National Geographic's Adventurers of the Year award. The footballer David Beckham, who featured with Gauntlett in an Adidas television advertisement, said he had been struck by his "strength of character and warm personality."

Gauntlett's girlfriend, Lucinda Hutchins, who had known him since the age of 11, said: "He sent me a text message saying he was going to be out of signal for three days. I texted back saying, 'Please be safe and don't push yourself.' He then texted me back and said, 'I'll be fine. I love you.' That's the last I heard." Hooper said: "Rob ... really pushed himself as hard as he could. It was only because he was such a motivated and driven person that the accident happened, but those were the qualities that made him so incredible."

David McKittrick



Robert Gauntlett, mountaineer, motivational speaker: born Petworth, West Sussex 10 May 1987; died Mont Blanc, France 10 January 2009.

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