A century after the first full Everest expedition, Kenton Cool is taking an Olympic medal awarded to one of its members to the summit. Ed Douglas reports.
Mountain guide Kenton Cool was on the BBC this morning talking about his plan to fulfil the pledge made by Edward Lisle Strutt to leave an Olympic medal on the summit of Everest.
The pledge was made at the closing ceremony of the first Winter Olympics held at Chamonix in 1924. Strutt was there to accept his medal as deputy leader on the first full Everest expedition in 1922. Although unsuccessful, the climbers reached 8,230 metres, smashing previous altitude records.
The category ‘Alpinisme’ had always been part of Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of the modern Olympic Games, but no medal had been awarded until 1924. Coubertin and the International Olympic Committee decided that the Everest feat was worthy of Olympic recognition.
By then, many of the climbers had left for the 1924 attempt, so Strutt accepted the other medals on their behalf. In doing so, as Coubertin recalled in his memoirs, this “courageous Englishman… swore to leave it next time at the top of the highest summit.”
After the tragic deaths of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine that year, Strutt’s pledge faded from view, to be rediscovered in 2010 by Cool’s friend Richard Robinson. That was the start of Cool’s attempt to place one of the medals on the summit in the year of the 2012 London Olympics.
Fulfilling Strutt's pledge required him to track down as many of the medals as he could and brought an offer from the family of 1922 pioneer Arthur Wakefield to take his medal, which was in their keeping, to the summit. Wakefield was a Cumbrian-born doctor famous for his fell-running exploits. Before the Great War he moved to Canada, married and started a family.
Aged 46 on Everest, Wakefield knew himself he wasn’t physically capable enough, and was regarded as “a passenger” by expedition leader Charles Bruce. But Wakefield was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress after his experiences in the Great War and his reputation as a nervous, difficult man was undeserved. His son Robert said that Wakefield only ever hugged him at the dedication of a memorial to those members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who died in the fighting.
In May, the Mountain Heritage Trust will be mounting an online exhibition of Wakefield’s photographs, which will coincide with Cool’s expedition.
Both the BMC and the Alpine Club have issued an official endorsement of the expedition. The BMC wished Cool’s venture “every success in placing the medals awarded to the 1922 Everest expedition on the mountain’s summit and in the portrayal of the history of Everest. In doing so we hope the venture will help foster the adventurous spirit in others and inspire them to similar enterprises on Everest and other mountains.”
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