Climbing with Sir Ranulph Fiennes - Part One
by Kenton Cool Jan/2008
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Read 'Climbing with Sir Ranulph Fiennes' Part 2 HERE
Since first reading his autobiography when I was at school, I have been in awe of Sir Ranulph Fiennes. A few years on and I left school and focussed on my climbing. I turned up to work on a course in the Alps as an Aspirant Guide only to find Ran mingling with the group of clients! I had hoped that I would be allowed to guide him that week but, being a mere understudy, I was given a couple of cute girls instead (who were great fun but they weren't Ran). All week we climbed the 4000m peaks around Sass Fee in Switzerland, and I took any chance I could to listen to the stories from the great man himself. I was like a schoolboy once more, totally entranced by his amazing adventures and yarns. At the end of the week Ran had to leave early and I took him to the airport. On the way there I talked about my current girlfriend who was due to fly in that day and about how it was all going badly wrong. Ran very matter of factly stated that what I had to do was buy a huge bunch of flowers and, as soon as she got off the plane, propose to her.
Kenton, Ran and Ian Parnell on the EigerKenton Cool, Jan 2008© Dream Guides
It would be over 6 months before I saw Ran again, this time in Chamonix where he invited me to dinner. Upon meeting him, the first thing he asked was “So how did it go?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but of course he was talking about the now ex-girlfriend and the marriage proposal. “Well I never asked her Ran” was my weak reply, “Why ever not?” he demanded, “It would have solved all your problems!”
That's the thing with Ran, he really believes that if you're passionate enough about something then any problems encountered can and will be overcome. Looking back I can clearly say that he was completely wrong about that one. But that evening became the pivotal point in our relationship, it was then that Ran first proposed that I guide him on the Eiger's North Face. I accepted at once and a beautiful climbing partnership was born.
Sir Ranulph FiennesKenton Cool, Jan 2008© Dream Guides
People often ask what it is like climbing with Ran, well, in a nutshell, bloody frustrating! In a way he is the perfect client, not concerned with why he needs to do things or how. He never wanted to learn how to climb, he simply wanted me to say that everything we did was building him towards the Eiger. He would drop gear regularly, or simply leave it behind. Once, he was taking an age to sort out some gear and when he finally got to the belay I asked him to hand over the equipment. He handed me a single krab. “Where the hell are the rest of the quick draws?” I angrily demanded, he replied calmly “Well Kenton you said the Karabiner was yours, you didn't say anything about the other two of them, and besides why did you put that rubber thing over the end of the sling, it's very hard to get the Karabiner off with that on.” I looked at him and burst out laughing!
We climbed more often than not in Winter, often when no-one else was. We climbed Petit Viking in Chamonix during February, it was -28 with wind-chill on top, the day before our ascent the late great Sue Nott had backed off this very route due to the cold. But for Ran this was normal because he really didn't know any better. A month later we climbed a very out of condition Swiss Route on the Courtes. It took us a mind-numbing 22 hours Hut to Glacier. Ran lost his head torch as it got dark and dropped a mitt, for many experienced climbers this ascent could well have been the end of their career but for Ran it was different; as long as I was there then he was happy. His 100% trust in me was and still is refreshing; he defers everything to me in a military like way. He will accept any decision I make without question and with total faith.
Our climbing took us to Italy and Switzerland and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him, in the car on the routes and in the huts. His complete lack of climbing awareness would make my blood boil, he has the common sense of a kitchen table and the climbing skill of an elephant BUT he is awesome. I have never spent time with someone who is so dedicated to the cause. He followed me up pitches that I really thought he would fail on, he would have continued until he dropped, never once did I wear him out. Add to this that he suffers from vertigo and you have someone who is quite remarkable. What drives him to do something that scares him so much, I really don't know, maybe it's because we were doing it for a good cause with Marie Curie but I think it was more than that. He had decided that the Eiger was the plan and he was going to do it regardless of what got in the way.
Sir Ran Ice ClimbingKenton Cool, Jan 2008© Dream Guides
In Chamonix, we once climbed a thin ice smear maybe five inches wide. While Ran was on it, he shattered all the ice (due his bullish ice climbing technique), which gave way on him, and he fell off. The tone in his voice was utter disbelief that the ice dare do such a thing; such is his blind faith in things. If Ran ever wanted to pursue a climbing career he would be very good, very quickly... or very dead.
His latest book is titled “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to know.” He is mad, he is certainly dangerous to climb with, but he doesn't have a bad bone in his body. Ran Fiennes has remained one of my heroes. I've heard so many people slag him off, and put him down - dismissing his achievements as non events, but to me he is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met and I'm very proud to have climbed with him. When ultimately he is no longer with us, there will be no-one left to take his place, he is truly the last of the Great British Adventurers.
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Dream Guides is run by Guy Willett and Kenton Cool, both keen enthusiasts and IFMGA Guides.
Kenton at Everest Base CampKenton Cool, Jan 2008© Dream Guides
Kenton has been climbing for 14 years and in this time has established himself as one of the UK's leading alpine climbers with an impressive list of difficult ascents. In recent years, Kenton has been taking the skills honed by many seasons in the Alps and Scotland to the Greater Ranges with significant 1st ascents in Alaska, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
These ascents reached a peak in 2003 with a major new route on Annapurna III (7,555m) for which Kenton, along with his two partners, were nominated for the prestigious Piolet D'Or Award in France. (An international award given to the best alpine-style ascent of the year). Kenton has been a popular and successful Expedition guide, having led a number of teams to summits in Nepal, including Ama Dablam.
In May 2006 he became the first and only Briton to climb Everest three times, successfully guiding clients to the summit on each occasion. With Dream Guides successful Cho Oyu expedition in October 2006, Kenton made the first British ski descent of an 8000m peak. And if that's not enough, in 2007, Kenton summited Everest twice - successfully guiding all Dream Guides' clients to the top and in the process bringing his summit tally to five. Kenton is the only European to summit 5 times and to summit twice in a season.
On top of all this, Kenton is a thoroughly nice bloke, with bundles of enthusiasm for climbing at all levels and altitudes. He is a regular face around the bars and clubs of Chamonix and is always up for party.