High-altitude expeditions with an edge. The 36-year-old can be a difficult man to catch up with. But catch up with him we did. Meet Mr. Cool.
Article originally posted 20th September 2009
Kenton Cool has climbed Mount Everest an astonishing seven times – a Western record – and in 2007 he did it twice in one week. He was the first Briton to ski down an 8,000-metre peak (Cho Oyu in Nepal – the 6th highest mountain in the world) and he has led polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes to the summits of both the Eiger and Everest. Perhaps understandably, the 36-year-old can be a difficult man to catch up with. But catch up with him we did. Meet Mr. Cool.
Taking Fiennes to the peak
It’s 2008. You’re 400 metres from the summit of Everest when famed adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes turns to you and says: “If I continue on I honestly believe I will not have the energy to get back down.” This probably doesn’t sound like your average day at work, but for 36-year-old guide and record-breaking mountaineer Kenton Cool, it often is.
Fiennes and Cool have worked together on expeditions since 2004, and a solid friendship has developed in that time. Their most recent achievement was realised in May of this year when the summit of Everest was finally reached, making 65-year-old Fiennes the oldest Briton to reach the world’s highest point.
“In 2008 I honestly thought he could do it. But it wasn’t to be, and when someone like Ran tells you they can’t, they can’t. It was a success, we raised so much for charity, but he saw it as a failure. This year my role was described as a ‘guardian angel’, and that’s what I did, I watched over things,” explained Cool.
“When I met Ran on his way down from the summit he looked elated and relieved. You know, this project began in 2004, so to be part of the whole thing was amazing. And to be part of the whole Ranulph Fiennes story is incredible. This is someone whose adventures I used to read about when I was a child, and he was this larger than life character. Now I was with him up Everest.”
The birth of cool
After growing up just outside London, Cool moved north to study in Leeds, where he chose a particularly fitting degree for a man who has built a career out of rocks, albeit very high ones. “I studied Geology, and in such a way that I could have worked in oil. When I finished university I came out to the Alps and loved it. On my return to London I worked in a ski shop and never looked back – I’ve not had a conventional job since.
“It wasn’t like it was a waste of time being at university though; It was a fantastic time to be in Leeds, and it was during this period when I really started to get into climbing.”
Cool’s achievements range from being the first Briton to complete an intimidating 8000m ski descent to being the first Briton to guide the Eiger’s deadly north face. And that’s before you come to the seven trips up Everest, including completing the only double ascent in one season by a Westerner. In 2003 he was up for the Piolet D’Or Award in France- a climbers’ award recognising the year’s best alpine ascent.
“If you look at the greats, such as Alex McIntyre or Chris Bonington, I mean, to compare me to them would be to compare someone in the Football Conference to George Best. Climbing is a very multi-faceted sport. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades – when you put them all together I’m OK. Recently I have carved a little name for myself as a high altitude climber.”
George Best or not, it’s fair to say that anyone would feel a little safer halfway up the Eiger with Cool and Dream Guides – the company he runs with Guy Willett ‘and friends’, specialising in high altitude adventure in the Alps and beyond.
Although something of a home from home, parts of Europe’s most famous mountain range still challenge the British climber. “Technically, Everest can be tackled by people of various levels of experience. But the Eiger, although half the size, is a very difficult summit to reach. It’s incredibly challenging. I think it was in ’94 or ’95 when Rob Hall infamously said he would be able to guide a grandma up Everest. In contrast the Eiger has hardly been guided. For many it is and will remain on the wish list,” said Cool.
Another trip with Fiennes saw Cool doing just that – successfully guiding him up the Eiger’s North Face in 2007. The expedition received heavy media coverage, with an ITV news crew and chopper on hand to ensure top-notch footage.
“Everest is a different story,” he said. “Once you’re up there there’s little access to you, so we had to think differently about the equipment we could take. In both cases the crews present – ITV on the Eiger and BBC on Everest – were fantastic, working with them was an absolute pleasure.”
When he’s not perilously perched on some peak, Cool splits his time between his homes in the UK and France, where he lives with his wife of one year, Jazz. “It’s quite complicated really. I’m in France at the moment, and we have about four or five friends staying with us, which is pretty regular. It gets busy here as we have lots of visitors coming over, and obviously lots of climbing.
“It’s a very hectic and a very full life. Every now and then I need some ‘r & r’, which I find in Fairford, Gloucestershire. It’s a small, quite traditional village perfect for getting away from things and winding down after an expedition,” he explained.
Your dream guide
Dream Guides, established in 2006, has grown into one of the leading adventure companies of its kind, something that is in no small part down to the expertise of those in charge. “Things are going well. Especially at the moment we are in a period of comfortable growth. People are getting to know the name, with the work we have done with Ran providing good publicity,” said Cool.
The expedition specialists offer various seasonal choices, from ice to Alpine climbing. Cool’s partner Willet is currently out in the Himalayas guiding a tour up Manaslu, scheduled to summit late September, but plans for the company’s future go well beyond this.
“At the moment I’m getting pretty psyched about putting together a five-year plan of events. Next year I’ll be guiding the youngest British woman up Everest, she’s 21 now. In 2011 we plan to complete the ‘Everest horseshoe’, which will be a really big achievement,” said Cool excitedly. Comprising three peaks – Everest, Lhotsi (the world’s fourth highest) and Nuptse – the ‘horseshoe’ is an intimidating challenge for anyone. Described by Cool as ‘The Trilogy’, no-one has climbed all three in one go, and the plan is to tackle them in succession. The trip is expected to take an exhausting eight to ten weeks.
“We’re looking for funding now, and although it’s not the best time to be in this position, it’s not like sponsoring a football club or yachting team,” said Cool, a man who’s successes and spirit have placed him very much, figuratively and literally, on top of the world.
For more info see http://www.dream-guides.com