mont blanc pen cases Tributes paid to adventurers Rob Gauntlett and James Atkinson
Tributes have been paid to young explorers Rob Gauntlett and James Atkinson, who fell to their deaths during a climbing holiday in the French Alps on Saturday.
School friends Rob Gauntlett and James Atkinson, both 21, died doing what they did best living life at its limit.
The pair, former pupils of charitable boarding school Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, had travelled to the French Alps for a climbing holiday with fellow climber James Hooper and another close school friend.
Mr Gauntlett, from Petworth, and Mr Hooper became the youngest climbers to scale Mount Everest aged just 19 in 2006.
Despite their astonishing achievement, the pair then embarked on a 13 month expedition from the North Geomagnetic Pole to the South Pole using entirely human and natural power.
A key member of the team was Mr Atkinson, who acted as expedition manager and was responsible for helping to organise the mammoth trip, alongside Mr Gauntlett and Mr Hooper.
Speaking from Chamonix in France, Mr Hooper told The Argus: “They were incredibly special friends. They were great people and they were an example of how much we need to live to get the most out of life.
“Unfortunately for them they had an accident but we should take inspiration from the fact they were willing to push boundaries to experience life at its best.
“Rob was a hugely positive person always taking the best out of everything.
He always looked on the positive side and never looked back. He was always going forward.”
The climbing holiday in Chamonix was the first time the group of friends had managed to get away together.
They had arrived in Chamonix on January 2 and were due to come back home on Wednesday.
Being the two most experienced climbers in the group, Mr Gauntlett and Mr Hooper split the foursome into two groups, each leading the other two less experienced friends on a route on the east face of Mont Blanc.
Mr Hooper said: “Rob and James went off to do a route and my friend and I looked at a route but we didn’t like the look of the weather so we decided not to.
“Then the weather suddenly cleared up but by that time it was too late for us to start our route and we decided to come down. Rob and James stayed up there and they were trying to do a big route Saturday morning and fell.”
Yesterday Mr Gauntlett’s parents, Nicola and David, flew out to France and met with Mr Hooper. He added: “It’s nice to be with Rob’s family because we are able to support each other. They are obviously devastated.”
Mr Hooper said Mr Atkinson was in the year below him at Christ’s Hospital School and became friends through their shared interests.
He added: “He was a fantastic guy. He loved climbing and cycling and he has been a great friend for many years.”
Mrs Gauntlett said of the loss of her son: “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.”
John Franklin, headteacher of Christ’s Hospital, said “Both Rob and James lived locally and both had brothers or sisters who went through Christ’s Hospital as well.
“They were fine young men quietly spoken, hugely determined and passionate about their climbing. Their deaths come as a terrible blow to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families as they come to terms with the losses.”
The Very Rev Michael Till said: “We remembered them and the wonderful fact that young people put themselves at risk doing what they want to do. This is very tragic news but what a wonderful life he enjoyed, however short it turned out to be.”
Anna Gregory, secretary of the London and South East branch of the British Mountaineering Council, said Mr Gauntlett was an inspiration to other climbers.
She added: “It was extraordinary when he climbed 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.”
Tributes to the pair were also left on a number of websites.
Scores of people left their thoughts on social networking site Facebook within hours of the news of Mr Gauntlett’s death.
Jim Watt wrote: “I admired this man ever since I first heard about his pole topole 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.”