From Everest to the Antarctic, mountaineer Stephen Venables’ next stop is Glenrothes

Stephen Venables is coming to the Rothes Halls in Glenrothes tomorrow night (Saturday) to give a talk on his experience of climbing Mount Everest. He was the first Briton to do it without bottled oxygen. Pic; Stephen Venables.
Stephen Venables is coming to the Rothes Halls in Glenrothes tomorrow night (Saturday) to give a talk on his experience of climbing Mount Everest. He was the first Briton to do it without bottled oxygen. Pic; Stephen Venables.

Mountaineer Stephen Venables was the first Briton to climb Everest without bottled oxygen.

In 1988, the writer, broadcaster and public speaker reached the summit alone, after climbing with a small American-Canadian team by a new route up the gigantic Kangshung Face.

Stephen Venables during the Everest climb. Pic: Ed Webster.

Stephen Venables during the Everest climb. Pic: Ed Webster.

And now 30 years on, he is due to give a talk about the experience at an event taking place at Rothes Halls, Glenrothes on Saturday.

Stephen, who lives in Edinburgh, revealed what it was like to climb Everest.

He said: “I had been climbing for for over 15 years and I had already been on 10 Himalayan expeditions.

“I had never really expected to go to Everest.

Stephen Venables was the first Briton to climb Everest without bottled oxygen. Pic: Ed Webster.

Stephen Venables was the first Briton to climb Everest without bottled oxygen. Pic: Ed Webster.

“And I had always thought that if I did go, the only point would be to do something really special – climbing a new route and doing it without supplementary oxygen.

“And then suddenly, out of the blue, this invitation came to join two Americans and a Canadian planning just that – on the gigantic, virtually unknown East Face, in Tibet. You can’t turn down an invitation like that.”

Stephen said there were a number of challenges on the climb, but the hardest decision was to take part.

“This was a big personal step into the unknown,” he said.

One of Stephen's colleagues Ed Webster during the Everest climb. Pic: Stephen Venables.

One of Stephen's colleagues Ed Webster during the Everest climb. Pic: Stephen Venables.

“But that was the only really hard decision: once that had been made, everything else fell into place.

“The first challenge was just to get to the mountain.

“The walk-in to our base camp was only 30 miles but, with a lot of winter snow around and an 18,000 ft pass to cross with a hundred Tibetan porters carrying all the supplies to keep us self-sufficient for over two months, it took 23 days! Once we got stuck into the climb the first challenge was to find a feasible route.

“That was fantastic – working our way up through an incredible vertical landscape.”

He said the climbing was hugely enjoyable but there were days he just wanted to stay warm in his sleeping bag, especially when faced with getting up in the dark at three in the morning.

He continued: “Unlike most Everest expeditions, we employed no staff on the mountain. So Ed, Paul, Robert and I did all the leading, fixing and load-carrying ourselves.

“It was very satisfying, but quite demanding, both physically and mentally.

“After about five weeks work we were ready for the big push to the summit. We each knew that this was going to be much harder than anything we had done before.

“In 1988 only 20 people had ever reached the summit of Everest without bottled oxygen, and four of them had not returned alive.”

But he managed to do it: “On the summit day I pushed myself very hard.

“My companions, Robert Anderson and Ed Webster, didn’t quite make it to the top and had turned round by the time I was coming back from the summit alone.

“It was late in the afternoon and cloudy, with almost zero visibility. I was exhausted and it was a real struggle.

“I was so slow that when darkness fell I was still a long way above our tents – at 8,600 metres above sea level.

“Rather than continue in the dark and risk an accident, I decided to stop and bivouac – sleep out in the open.

“Well, not sleep exactly – just lie on a ledge and shiver for seven hours. At that time no-one had ever before survived a night alone in the open so high.”

Stephen explained where the initial interest in climbing came from: “My first climbs were on seaside boulders when I was a child.

“The first time I actually tied on to a rope was on day’s rock climbing course in Switzerland in 1967, when I was 13.

“By the age of 18 I was climbing quite regularly and when I was 23 I went on my first big expedition – to climb some new routes in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.

“By the time Everest came along I had spent a lot of time in the Himalaya, as well as the Andes, made some nice first ascents of previously untouched peaks, and had been several times to about 7,000 metres above sea level.

“But Everest is nearly 9,000 metres above sea level, so I had no idea whether I was going to be capable of it.”

So would he ever think about climbing Everest again?

“No. We had the most wonderful adventure and returning to Everest would be an anti-climax.

“ In any case I think the only way I could get to the top now would be with supplementary oxygen and that’s cheating.

“And in any case I would hate the crowds!”

Stephen is also looking forward to the next challenge.

He said: “I’ve just returned from my eighth expedition to the island of South Georgia and in January I’m returning to the far south, leading a ski-mountaineering expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula.”

He is also looking forward to coming to Fife again this month.

“Earlier this year I did an Everest talk at Lochgelly on a wet, cold Sunday evening and the theatre was packed.

“ I was thrilled by the reception and it would be great if we could have a full house again at Glenrothes,” he added.

○For tickets, visit onfife.com