Tributes to killed mountaineers
The climber who died in the French Alps along with Rob Gauntlett, the youngest British mountaineer to conquer Everest, was named today.
James Atkinson and Mr Gauntlett, both 21 and from Sussex, fell to their deaths while ice climbing in the Mont Blanc du Tacul near Chamonix. Their bodies were discovered by a mountain rescue team on the 14,000ft high mountain at 8am yesterday. French police said they were in a couloir when they fell. It remains unclear how they died as weather conditions were not extreme, there were no reports of avalanches and they were both well equipped.
Mr Gauntlett’s family spoke of their devastation at their son’s death, adding that their only consolation was that he died while “doing something that he loved”.
His parents have flown to France to recover their son’s body. James Hooper, his schoolfriend with whom he climbed Mount Everest in 2006, was also in Chamonix.
Speaking from Mr Gauntlett’s family home in Petworth, West Sussex, before leaving for France, his mother Nicola said he and Mr Atkinson had been ice-climbing when there was a “big fall”.
She said: “At the moment we don’t know exactly what happened but there was obviously a big fall and they both died.”
She said they arrived in the region on January 2 and were due back in the UK on Wednesday.
Four people have already died on the Mont Blanc massif so far this season.
During their GCSEs, the pair set their hearts on climbing Everest, which they succeeded in doing three years later.
In March 2007, he and Mr Hooper set off on a journey from the North to the South Pole using entirely human and natural power. For 13 months the adventurers travelled 26,000 miles from Pole to Pole.
They used methods including skis, dog sleds, cycling and sailing to cross land, sea and ice, becoming the first people to achieve the feat.
Their website states: “They are keen not only to emphasise the importance of protecting our environment through education and lifestyle choices, but also to ignite a flame in everyone they meet which pushes them to utilise their talents and achieve their ambitions.”
A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “I can confirm that two British nationals were killed in an accident in the French Alps.”
The pair were remembered at services today at St Mary’s Church in Petworth.
The Very Reverend Michael Till said: “This is very tragic news but what a wonderful life he enjoyed, however short it turned out to be.”
A tribute page has been set up on the social networking website, Facebook, called RIP Rob Gauntlett. One said: “I admired this man ever since I first heard about his Pole-to-Pole expedition.
“His loss is as tragic as it is untimely. Maybe it’s some consolation that he managed to pack more into his 21 years than most of us would ever in 70.”
Anna Gregory, secretary of the London and South East branch of the British Mountaineering Council, said that although she did not know Mr Gauntlett, he was an inspiration to climbers.
She said: “It was extraordinary when he did Everest. He was obviously a unique character and an inspiration. He had plans and wanted to gain records - we were looking forward to his next achievement.”
Of his death, she said: “The world is a sadder place for it.”
During their climb up the 29,035ft Mount Everest, Mr Gauntlett and Mr Hooper, from Wellington, Somerset, struggled with illness and weight loss and had to brave storms above 7,000m.
Speaking from the summit in May 2006, Mr Gauntlett said: “James and I are really keen on getting the message out to young people to follow your dreams. This has been our dream for three years.
“Get out there, follow it up and make sure you make it happen.”
The teenagers’ expedition, which was paid for by corporate sponsors, raised money for Cancer Research UK. Their subsequent Pole-to-Pole effort aimed to raise awareness about climate change and prove to their generation it was possible to achieve the “impossible”.