First Person: 'I helped Ranulph Fiennes up Everest'
Kenton Cool, 35
Saturday 04 July 2009
Ranulph Fiennes is not the sort of man to take defeat lying down. So when his previous attempt to climb Everest fell short in 2008, it didn't sit with him very well. It was only a matter of time before he decided to return, but this time it had to be different. I was with Ran on both expeditions, and the first was part of a high-profile operation. There were one or two personality clashes between journalists, TV-crew operators, myself and Ran along the way that time around, which made for rather an uneasy environment. A culmination of factors meant that at 8,300m – just 500m short of the summit – Ran decided to turn back. At the time, he initially stated point-blank that he had given up on mountains and was going back to polar exploring, but he was soon tempted back to Everest. This time, however, the journey was perfect.
I've been climbing with Ran over a period of five years, during which our friendship has blossomed. I first met him when I was working as a trainee guide. We got on well, and he later asked me if I'd be prepared to take him up the face of the notorious Eiger in Switzerland, which is considered one of the tougher climbs, and one that no British guide had ever successfully completed before. That was back in 2007, by which time I was a fully trained guide – and our adventure raised just shy of £2m for charity. There, we found out that we worked very well together as a team. So when Ran did decide to give Everest a final go, it made sense for us to work together once more.
For this year's Everest climb, we wanted a much more low-key vibe than in 2008. It was an ad-hoc thing, and in the end there were seven climbers, including myself and Ran, plus a two-man film crew and 10 members of staff. We congregated at Kathmandu airport, and then spent 10 days trekking to base camp, which in itself is a beautiful trip. Then, once we arrived at base camp we began the five-week process of acclimatising our bodies, slowly making our way up and down the mountain, each time going a little bit further.
The mood at base camp is different every time I'm there. I've been so many times over the years and I have a lot of friends and colleagues who I only get to see when I'm up there, so it's always a fun atmosphere. And it's a great place to meet people from different cultures, who you wouldn't come across in everyday life.
Once we all felt our bodies getting used to the pressure, we set out on the climb, in "siege" style. There was one sherpa for each climber, and they moved in advance at each stage, setting up camp in preparation for our arrival. We went through six camps in all; during the ascent I hung back a bit, always about 40 minutes behind Ran; but we were in constant radio contact in case anything ever went wrong. Thankfully, the whole operation ran perfectly. There were no accidents along the way, and when the radio suddenly crackled into life and Ran announced he was on the summit, it was quite a magical moment. I was so pleased for him.
There is something great about having helped the legend that is Ranulph Fiennes up Everest. I feel privileged to have been able to do that, as I feel privileged every day in my job. My partner and I run our own small company, Dream Guides, for which we organise walks and climbing expeditions all over the world; one week I'm working in France, the next in Switzerland, and then I'm in Nepal [Kenton Cool has climbed Everest seven times]. It's an exciting lifestyle, and this day was a particularly memorable one. I'm pleased to have had such a nice closure to five years of working with Ran.
Kenton would like to thank his sponsors, including Mountain Hardware, Land Rover and SIS, and the sherpas, whose hard work, he says, goes largely unrecognised
Kenton is supporting the Science: So what? So everything campaign, which shows the importance of science behind everything, including climbing. To find out more, visit direct.gov.uk/sciencesowhat.
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