Cool has become one of the leading British mountaineers of his generation - Picture: Kenton Cool
By Matt Westby
In among the down coats and clicking of karabiners at the London Outdoor Show stands a man in a tweed jacket with orange elbow pads.
His white shirt is impeccably ironed and black shoes polished to a pristine shine that reflects the spotlights beaming on to the plinth where he waits.
A chiselled jaw and queue of autograph hunters suggest he could be an A-list celebrity who had been aiming for the boat show next door but wandered into the wrong hall.
There’s no mistake, though. English mountaineer Kenton Cool is precisely where he needs to be – and ten minutes early at that.
“I’m not meant to start till half past but I always run over and Helen Skelton is on straight after, so I think I will get on with it.”
Cool is at the show to give a talk to 80 or so spellbound spectators about his most recent ascent of Mount Everest, his British-record tenth climb to the summit of the world’s highest peak.
It is impossible not to be inspired by his achievements as he speaks about tackling the Lhotse Face and Hillary Step, yet it is the man himself that draws more admiration.
Endearing, courteous and unflinchingly positive, he spent the first five minutes of the talk quizzing young children on the front row about the snowmen they had made in the preceding days. “You built two?! Well that’s just greedy.”
Cool completed the 'Olympic Pledge' by taking a 1924 gold medal to the summit of Everest in May 2012 - Picture: Kenton Cool
Afterwards, when the appreciative applause and crowd waiting for photos have both died down, the 39-year-old from Gloucestershire steps away from the stage to explain what’s next for one of the most celebrated British mountaineers of his generation.
There might have been a temptation to make his tenth summit on Everest his last, but familiarity has bred affection rather than contempt, and with 2013 representing a landmark year on the mountain, there was never any doubt he would be going back in April.
“Everest has given me everything – it has defined my life,” Cool tells Live For Adventure. “Everest is part of me in a way and the year that I don’t go there, I will really miss it.
“I’m heading back in April because this year is the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s first ascent.
“I have got a client I’m going with, but we are also working in conjunction with the BBC this year and we are going to do something pretty special to celebrate the anniversary. If it works, it’s going to be amazing. It is not top secret, but we are keeping it under wraps.”
But Everest is not the only mountain on Cool’s radar, with a pioneering ascent of the 8,586m Kangchenjunga also being planned.
He says: “Next year, myself and a couple of colleagues are looking at going to a different mountain, so it will be my first year away from Everest. We want to do a new route on Kangchenjunga without oxygen, which will be getting back to my climbing routes. That will be amazing.
“Then in 2015, I will almost certainly be back on Everest because I have been asked to lead a Gurkha expedition, which will be absolutely incredible if we can pull it off.”
That Cool wants to be part of 60th anniversary celebrations on Everest is no surprise given he is as fluent in mountaineering’s history as he is the modern-day climbing skills that have enabled him to follow in the footsteps of his heroes.
Cool is quick to acknowledge the priceless value of Sherpas on Everest - Picture: Kenton Cool
He holds the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary in the highest esteem and can reel off the days, months and years of key moments of George Mallory’s expeditions as if they were family birthdays. Show him a photo of the men that set sail for the Himalayas from Southampton way back in 1922 and he could easily tell you the name and role of each of them.
His retelling of their stories at talks like the one in London have made him just as important in promoting British mountaineering’s past as he is its present, yet mention his name in the same breath as the greats and he suddenly retreats.
“The thing about my time on Everest is I have always been working, in one form or another,” he explains. “I perhaps don’t have the romance of 1922 or 1924 and the ground-breaking expeditions, or the 1970s of Sir Chris Bonington.
“If people do remember some of my achievements – perhaps getting Sir Ranulph Fiennes to the top [in 2009] or taking the 1924 Olympic gold medal in 2012 – then I would feel really honoured.”
As well as his summits on Everest, Cool has also received a nomination for the coveted Piolet d’Or award for a pioneering new route on Annapurna, made ski descents of both Cho Oyu and Manaslu, and led Fiennes – complete with stumped fingers and vertigo – up the North Face of the Eiger.
There was a time when such feats would have been rewarded with honours from the Queen – Sirs Fiennes, Hillary and Bonington being prime examples – but the days when mountaineering was cherished by mainstream Britain are long gone.
Cool doesn’t have so much as an MBE to his name and although he rues the lack of recognition for the fine men of the mountains, he insists adulation is not why they climb.
“My wife jokingly said not so long ago, ‘If you were as good a footballer as you are a mountaineer, we would be living in a big house and driving a Ferrari’,” he admits.
“But does it matter that mountaineering is not on the back pages of the papers? Not really. We don’t do it for fame and glory. We do it because of the passion of the sport: being in the mountains, being on the snow and ice, being on the rock, being in the outdoors – that is what is important.
Cool on the summit of Everest for the ninth time in 2011 - Picture: Kenton Cool
“Perhaps it is not a mainstream sport, but interestingly, it is one of only a few sports in the country where participation is growing.
“Maybe one day we will get the recognition from the media, because Britain has had an amazing heritage in mountaineering.”
As well as being deeply entrenched in the past and present of British mountaineering, Cool also has one eye on the future.
One of the themes of his talk in London was opening onlookers’ eyes to the fact that they can achieve what he has – and he is quick to point them in the direction of the world’s myriad unclimbed mountains.
“There’s an immense amount of discovery left to be done in the mountains,” he adds. “Adventure is all around us as climbers.
“Mountaineering is one of the few things where true adventures still exist – to do something that nobody has ever done before.
“They are not all hard. Some of them are relatively easy, even though they may be remote and out of the way, which is why they have not been climbed before, but they are still there.
“It’s open to anybody. There are no rules, no regulations – you can just go out and do it, and that is one of the wonderful things about mountaineering.”
Kenton Cool online
Visit his website: www.kentoncool.com
Follow him on Twitter: @KentonCool