Obit. Young men climbed Everest and visited both poles
January 13, 2009 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Youngest Briton to climb Everest dies in Alps Last year, two British kids skied, sailed, and biked through North, Central, and South America, en route from the north pole to the south pole.  They made it the whole 180 degrees, but as you can read in the articles, they almost died several times.  You may enjoy reading an interview about that trip. They had already climbed to the top of Everest at 19 years of age. They were named Adventurers of the Year for 2008 by National Geographic. They died this weekend, January 10, 2009, climbing in the French Alps.
posted by peter_meta_kbd (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This really needs to be corrected. 'They' did not die this weekend, only one of the pair did. Rob Gauntlett died in a fall in the French Alps. James Hooper, his partner in the various expeditions, was in the Alps with Gauntlett and other friends but was not involved in the fall that killed Gauntlett and fellow climber James Atkinson.
posted by grounded at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2009

posted by Floydd at 11:37 AM on January 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Related fact: youngest person to climb Everest was 15.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:50 AM on January 13, 2009

posted by Sk4n at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2009

So the big attraction of these death-defying mountain climbing antics is the actual defiance of death, right? If there was no risk of death, then there wouldn't be much defiance to be had in the acts, it would just be an extended hike. So shouldn't other enthusiasts be cheering this lad on for keeping it exciting for the rest of them?
posted by FatherDagon at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, grounded definitely right. I had too many adventurers in my head and got them mixed up.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 12:18 PM on January 13, 2009

Chazz Reinhold: Yeah, her boyfriend just died. Dude died in a hang-gliding accident! What an idiot! "Aaaahhh, I'm hang-gliding! Take a good picture, honey, I'm dead!"

Darwin wins.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:22 PM on January 13, 2009

...that came out a bit harsher than intended, but it's not as though he died in a freak accident.
Stuff like this happens ALL THE TIME to alpinists, free climbers, BASE jumpers, and other adrenaline junkies who pursue the more deadly end of the excitement spectrum. I just wish we'd quit valorizing it, and maybe a few less kids would be dead
posted by leotrotsky at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of my friends posted a link to this on FaceBook. Another person commented 'Oh, so young, this is sad.' I resisted the urge to say what leotrotsky said, but, yes.
posted by fixedgear at 12:44 PM on January 13, 2009

I wonder if they read this book. Mark Twight has done some crazy shit.
posted by exogenous at 12:44 PM on January 13, 2009

Someone wake me up when the Travel Channel does the biopic. /slumber
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:53 PM on January 13, 2009

Climbed Everest and dragged himself pole to pole by 21, died relatively quickly doing something he liked. That's pretty good really. This whole lost potential thing, I never really get it, I mean it's not like he's going to be spending the next 60 years thinking "shouldn't have done it".

Seems a whole lot better than being 90 lying in your piss-ridden bed dying of something unspeakably painful over the period of a year following a spectacular career in middle management for a cereal company who gave you a watch when you retired.

I only said that last bit because there's worse ways to live and die, yeah?

posted by mandal at 1:06 PM on January 13, 2009

Better to regret something you have done then to regret something you haven't.

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:18 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mandal: I imagine his parents might disagree.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2009

Marisa: True, but then he can't regret, can he? He can't do anything, because he's a corpse at 21.

I'll stop MCing the thread now.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2009

"We can only take consolation that he died doing something that he loved."


I know. I'm terrible.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:29 PM on January 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mandal: I imagine his parents might disagree.

The parents actually kind of agree.

From the Guardian article (the first hyperlink):
"We are all just devastated. He's far too young to die. We had spoken about something like this happening only recently.

"We can only take consolation that he died doing something that he loved."
posted by ericb at 1:30 PM on January 13, 2009

The kid's name was Gauntlett. Rest in peace, eponysterical adventurer.

posted by resurrexit at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2009

So the big attraction of these death-defying mountain climbing antics is the actual defiance of death

I'm not really an adrenaline junkie, so I can't speak to that part. But I think there's more to it than that, and I think to reduce it to thrill-seeking is a misunderstanding and potentially a disservice.

A big ingredient for a lot of these people is taking on technical challenges. They happen to be technical challenges with potentially deadly risks of failure, and that heightens the experience for some, but simple deadly risk probably wouldn't be enough -- you don't see a high popularity of russian roulette amongst these people, despite the fact that could also be an adrenaline hit and an act of death defiance, because what's the achievement in coming through?

There's also, I think, an element of freedom here. Wanderlust and a desire to see/experience things outside the tame boundaries of society is a feeling a lot of us know, and if you get together the resources, practices, and abilities to successfully navigate some of the challenges that lie outside of those boundaries, it changes you. It's one of the reasons people love Tom Brown's tracker school, it's one thing that Norman Maclean touches on when he talks about how some young men become smoke jumpers to settle something about themselves: if you can test yourself against these kinds of things and come through, the world seems bigger and obstacles look smaller, and some measure of fear gives way to a sense and habit of freedom that only people who are willing to meet and manage risk can achieve.

There's obviously the other deadly side of this, and I can agree that a little more appreciation for that and a little less bravado could be used among some people. Every time this topic comes up, I think about what Jon Krakauer wrote, interviewing Chris McCandless's mother after his death:
As she studies the pictures she breaks down from time to time, weeping as only a mother who has outlived a child can weep, betraying a sense of loss so huge and irreparable that the mind balks at taking its measure. Such bereavement, witnessed at close range, makes even the most eloquent apologia for high-risk activities ring fatuous and hollow.
And of course there's always the question of what people who die in high-risk activities might have been able to accomplish if they'd measured their risks more carefully and lived longer.

But I can't really accept that's the end of the story if you think there's any kind of real dimension to talk about the life of the human spirit. It's not even just the beneficial personal aspects I detailed above -- there's a social dimension to it too. Do you enjoy the olympics? Seeing what people are able to achieve with their bodies after serious training? A lot of what goes on in the risky outdoor sports is the same kind of reaching, but in a less artificial contest. And we really do learn how to do some of this stuff better and eventually with less risk because of people who push the limits.

Like a lot of things, I suspect there's a tension between two sets of valid values here, and wisdom lies in a compromise between two poles. Naturally, most of us being fools, wisdom and balance are rare. Maybe Gauntlett foolishly added risk to his life, maybe the grief of those who loved him and the quieter joy he might have had if he'd lived long outweighed the joy he found the way he lived. That doesn't erase the other side of the equation, though, so while I can get behind the hope that the risk-lovers of the world will consider how they might balance their pursuits with a little more wisdom, I'm not sure that's really the best point to dwell on for us cube-dwellers and keyboard commentators considering the issue from tamer places that have risks of their own, like heart disease and traffic accidents and commercial pop and duller senses, rather than our own experiences in the bracing mountain air.

Hell, maybe I ought step away from the keyboard and walk up into a slightly more dangerous local canyon myself.

posted by weston at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2009 [8 favorites]

posted by rusty at 2:04 PM on January 13, 2009

Also: there's always the question of what people who die in high risk activities might have been able to accomplish if they'd measured their risks more carefully and lived longer.

No criticism of your well-written comment meant, weston. Just saying what's "high risk" is not always very clear.
posted by rusty at 2:09 PM on January 13, 2009

And reading on, I see you addressed that point anyway. Clearly time for me to go home.
posted by rusty at 2:10 PM on January 13, 2009


I don't really agree that people do this for the risk, or because they only want to buzz off the adrenaline like it's popping a pill, or really that it's the technical challenge. I can only talk about climbing, but the activity of climbing on rock is a beautiful activity, on it's own, regardless of the technical grade to which you're climbing. Climbing in mountains, way out, exposed on a face somewhere in the middle of nwhere, is a unique and inexpressible experience. The calculations made - pretty much all the technical challenge - is to reduce the risk and still get the rewards from climbing as hard as you can.

"...maybe a few less kids would be dead" - aye, but a lot more's existence would be a lot more bland and a lot less fulfilled. People at the level that Gauntlet seems to have been doing stuff don't climb or do whatever else because it's valorized, but because they like doing it and because life doesn't give them the same payback any other way.
posted by YouRebelScum at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2009

This has been very interesting for me to read. I posted the original story - my first link on MF - and I didn't know quite why I felt so strongly that this was an important story. Reading the comments I can now see how it is important - for me. I just took the time to think about it. I've been mugged by a crack dealer, assaulted by a gang with machetes, struck by lightning, crashed a corvette without a seatbelt, been to Stampede Road and some of Ben Linder's haunts, and a few other things that could have killed me that I won't go into here.

Have you ever wondered, "How can there be people who have been struck by lightning several times? What are the chances?" I used to wonder that, until I found myself struck by lightening on a bike training ride in Boulder, Colorado - then out running in a thunderstorm a few months later!@ "Now I know why people can get struck by lightening several times. It's not a matter of probability. It's a matter of wishful thinking."

I think there is something obsessive about certain people (including myself apparently) that makes them very curious and fixated to prove conventional wisdom wrong. I don't know where it comes from, but from the story, it is clear where it often ends.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 4:24 PM on January 13, 2009

to settle something about themselves: if you can test yourself against these kinds of things and come through, the world seems bigger and obstacles look smaller, and some measure of fear gives way to a sense and habit of freedom that only people who are willing to meet and manage risk can achieve.

Everything is relative and proportional. It is why young men join the Marine Corps etc. Much smaller scale. But an attempt to prove to oneself.
posted by notreally at 5:22 PM on January 13, 2009

I'd almost posted this story myself after seeing the early news reports. Just last week, I'd read the National Geographic Adventure article while on a plane. Their story bothered me so much I was planning to write to NG to say what a poor choice Gauntlett and Hooper were for Adventurers of the Year.

From the NGA piece:
Gauntlett came very close to dying. He was unconscious in the 28-degree water for about four minutes, and nearly four hours total. He awoke just as the medevac helicopter arrived, called in from Upernavik, Greenland. His family, Hooper's family, and their trip supporters all recommended stopping, so Hooper presented this to Gauntlett in the hospital in Upernavik. "Rob told me to piss off, we were definitely carrying on."

And then:
Then, in Punta Arenas, Chile, they needed a boat with a crew to sail 9,000 miles to the south geomagnetic pole, a hundred miles off the coast of Antarctica and deep in the Southern Ocean. They didn't have any money. So they borrowed $90,000—mostly from people they'd met and inspired on their journey—to charter a 67-foot aluminum schooner. They knew it might take a very long time to repay the loans, especially since they didn't have jobs waiting for them at home. But they just didn't want to stop.

WTF? A $90K charter boat? A medevac helo?

This is a tale of poor planning, big spending and putting other people (like rescuers and boat crew) in harm's way, all in service to your adventure ego. And then after other people -- rescuers, financial supporters, Sherpas on Everest -- put themselves out to carry your gear and save your bacon, you go out on the motivational speaking circuit and tell/sell your tales of derring-do.

The wilderness medic in me sure hopes these guys don't inspire others to see the world this way.
posted by grounded at 6:32 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A good life. A good death. Sorry he didn't have children, been nice to have had his genes passed back into the pool, for grit, guts, fun, perseverance. One hell of a human being. Sorry he's gone, glad he was here.

posted by dancestoblue at 1:21 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mountain climbing is not thrill seeking. Ask anyone who has had to slog their way to the top of Everest.

Sure, the view from the top is a rush, but the rest is pretty much torture.

The real thrill is getting back down alive.
posted by bwg at 2:29 AM on January 14, 2009

I'm sure the cereal company manager would also have liked to have some adventures if his Mommy and Daddy could have paid the way.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:09 AM on January 14, 2009

Everyone was certain the adventure was dangerous. Most thought it should not be allowed. Ook didn't give a damn. Mind, he didn't know what a damn was, let alone have one to give, but that doesn't matter. What mattered was, he was going to go out there.

Out there, the sun shone bright, as no trees blocked the light. Of course, it was the lack of trees that made the difference. Dangerous, no doubt about it. But maybe there was something new there. Who could know? No one had ever ventured out of the cover of the trees.

Latter in the day, as the colors began to intensify from the filtered light of late afternoon, Ook returned. Without a word to anyone, he went straight to the creek and drank. Sitting back he let forth a huge belch, looked up at the tree tops, and made the loudest shriek of self-satisfaction ever heard.

Ook had discovered grain. His people would eat.
posted by Goofyy at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2009

Shortly thereafter, Ook left a vessel of grain out in the rain, and it began to ferment. Ook had discovered beer. His people would get loaded.
posted by exogenous at 9:21 AM on January 14, 2009

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