Kenton Cool’s Alpine career almost never got off the ground. After a brutal fall shattered his heel bones at the age of 22, he was told he’d never be able to climb again. Jump to two decades later and he’s one of the most well-respected mountaineers in the world, with a multitude of ‘firsts’ under his belt, most notably being the first person to climb The Everest Triple Crown (reaching the summits of these three peaks: Nuptse (7,861m), Everest (8,848m) and Lhotse (8,516m).
Cool’s tenacious spirit has driven him to scale Everest eleven times, ski down two 8000m mountains and complete the Olympic pledge (placing the 1924 Olympic Gold Medal on Everest summit). He’s the man Sir Randolph Fiennes trusts to guide him up the Eigers and tweets his wife from mountaintops; this is one Cool customer.
When did your curiosity about the wider world start?
I was lucky in many ways, we didn’t have much money so we always got kicked outside and they’d say ‘Go out and explore’ and that’s what I did with great gusto. I loved coming back tired and muddy.
Initially for me it was rock climbing. It is a physical, gymnastic act but it’s also a puzzle that’s been sculpted by nature. The holes are in a specific sequence and you have to unlock their hidden secrets to be able to progress to the next level. I found the whole thing utterly fascinating and the more I did the more I was drawn into it.
I always want to go bigger and higher so it was rock climbing in the UK, then Scotland, then the Alps and very quickly within the Himalayas and that’s where I found my true love of exploration.
“When the opportunity came I grabbed it and ran with it.”
What’s your favourite part of an expedition?
I like the whole thing. I love the planning, the packing and getting the equipment together. The only thing that I find a bit of a pain is if it’s a big expedition then you often need to find funding.
I love exploration for it’s own sake because I think it’s a wonderful thing. The outdoors is a wonderful classroom, there’s some much you can learn from it. I find it hard to believe that that’s not enough, to go where people have never been.
When did you decide to climb the Triple Crown?
I came up with the idea a number of years ago and we almost got it off the ground then and got quite high up with getting sponsorship and then someone in a boardroom said ‘Well what happens if he dies on the expedition’ and because I wasn’t there to sell it myself and tell the board why that wasn’t going to happen, the whole thing got canned. We lost the funding and everything was put on the backburner.
Fast forward five years and I still had the idea there and I’d got out to Everest and I was met to have a client with me and the client didn’t show up and all of a sudden I had the opportunity to fulfil the ambition. I already had the Everest permit and it was quite easy to arrange the other permits required.
It was beautiful conditions. It was a good example that you should never loose hope in an ambition or vision that an individual has because it would have been easy for me to put that project to rest all those years ago and I didn’t and when the opportunity came I grabbed it and ran with it.
“Initially for me it was rock climbing. It is a physical, gymnastic act but it’s also a puzzle that’s been sculpted by nature.”
What does exploration mean to you?
I think exploration is a personal thing. In terms of my own personal objectives, it’s going somewhere in the mountains where people haven’t been. Which sounds like a hard thing to do, but in reality there’s so much untrodden ground even today. There are more unclimbed peaks between 6 and 6500 thousand meters in West Nepal than there are climbs and that for me is true adventure and exploration: to tread where no one has ever been, to essentially go off the map.
“To tread where no one has ever been, to essentially go off the map.”