Super-cool Kenton clocks up another record.
Everest is back in the news. No surprises about that, because it’s May, which is summit season.
By all accounts, the weather has been kind this year. Records have been broken, including the greatest number of ascents by a man (Kami Rita Sherpa with 26 ascents) and by a woman (Lhakpa Sherpa with 10 ascents). Both of them broke their own records.
As Sherpas, Kami and Lhakpa hail from a race renowned for their adaptation to high-altitude life. The mountains are literally in their blood. They were born among them, raised with the blessing of their gods, and in response to the hordes visiting their land, they exchanged their mattocks and hoes for ice-axes so they could lead them into the heights. Of the twenty-four people who have climbed Everest more than ten times, twenty of them are Sherpas.
A new record for Kenton Cool
The American mountain guide, Dave Hahn, held the non-Nepali record of 15 Everest ascents until last week when UK climber and guide Kenton Cool reached the summit. Since his first trip to the top in 2004, Kenton has now climbed Everest 16 times.
With Kenton Cool (right) at Everest Base Camp 2017.
Kenton’s achievement came as no surprise to me. I last saw him in 2017, when my wife Rossy and I dropped in on him at Everest Base Camp just before his thirteenth ascent:
A Cool conversation
Shuffling our feet on the moraine outside the mess tent, we waited for Russell Brice to prise Kenton from its cosseting interior. Rossy hadn’t met Kenton before. I told her how his first three Everest summits were with Jagged Globe and that since then he’d made a name for himself by guiding the rich and famous. She asked if Kenton Cool was his real name.
'His parents were German. When they moved to England they anglicised their name, so Kuhle became Cool. Cool isn't it?'
'It sounds so corny.'
‘In name, maybe. But there’s nothing corny about the man.’
The first time I met Kenton he was propped between two crutches. One of those guys who always landed on his feet, he’d fallen off a climb and broken both his heels. His temporary inability to walk was never allowed to spoil a night out, nor did he allow his surgeon's prognosis 'you'll never climb again' to dampen his upbeat temperament. Whatever befell him, he carried it with the attitude that it would all work out perfectly. Twenty years later that self-belief had buoyed him to the summit of Everest twelve times; apart from the American guide Dave Hahn, only Sherpas had been there more.
Kenton soon appeared, looking relaxed and rested despite having descended from Camp 3 the day before. He greeted Rossy with his usual charm and mischief, then turned his attention to my aging attire.
'Just look at that jacket. I used to have one of those fifteen years ago.'
'It still works,' I said.
'But it's full of holes. Surely the founder of Jagged Globe can afford a decent jacket?'
'These holes are mementoes.'
Decked out in the latest high-tech clothing befitting of mountaineering's James Bond, Kenton didn't have to say anything. He just stood there with his winner's smile. Duly chastened, I asked about his plans.
'We'll go up as soon as the ropes are fixed to the summit, or maybe a day before to beat the rush. Russell reckons they'll be in by the 2nd of May.'
'That's early. Still pretty cold up there.'
‘I know. Look at this.' He pointed to the discoloured tip of his nose. 'Frost-nip. First time I've ever had it. Going up to Camp 3 was cruel. Really windy.'
'It's evil up there, Kenton. I don't know how you keep going back. How much longer will you do it for?'
'I've got clients signed up for the next two years.'
I wanted to know how much he charged for his one-on-one, one hundred per cent success record service, but I didn't ask. He knew how to work Everest in this modern age. Kenton was fifteen years younger than me, fifteen years that left my generation standing in bewilderment long after the social media bandwagon had left. Kenton hadn't just caught it; he'd seized the controls and floored the pedal to celebrity. While other leading guides like David Hamilton quietly notched up ascent after ascent without fanfare, Kenton had built a business out of working his profile, making him Everest's most sought-after mountain guide, a name on the most lucrative speaking circuits and a global ambassador for a leading car manufacturer. But it had come at the cost of his reputation among the hard-core climbers who despised the Everest circus; once one of their elite, he was sometimes shunned for having sold out to the dollar. It was one thing that we shared.
‘This’ll interest you,’ said Kenton as we prepared to leave. ‘A long-time client of yours told me that since you left, Jagged Globe had become more professional but less glamorous. I’d take that as a compliment.’
With his attraction to high-profile peaks and celebrity clients, Kenton clearly leans towards the glamorous. But as a guide who’s led clients up the infamous North Face of the Eiger, and up Everest multiple times, there’s no doubting that Kenton is the ultimate professional. Not a bad effort for someone who was told, twenty-five years ago, that he’d never climb again.