Page last updated at 16:35 GMT, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Tributes paid to British climbers

Rob Gauntlett
Rob Gauntlett climbed Everest with his friend when aged just 19

Tributes have been paid to two climbers who died in an accident in the Alps.

Record-breaking climber Rob Gauntlett, and James Atkinson, both 21 and from Sussex, were killed after falling on a route on the east face of Mont Blanc.

Mr Gauntlett climbed Mount Everest when he was 19 in 2006 - making him the youngest Briton to achieve the feat.

Climber James Hooper, who was on holiday with the pair, described Mr Gauntlett as "inspirational" and Mr Atkinson as a "top guy".

Mr Hooper, 21, who climbed Everest with Mr Gauntlett in 2006, said his friend had packed his short life full of incredible experiences.

He also paid tribute to Mr Atkinson, a Durham University student, saying he was a "top guy" who was highly motivated about his outdoor pursuits.

Best friend

Mr Hooper, who was part of the four-man group on holiday, said: "Rob and I have been best friends since we were 15 and so we obviously know each other really well and have been on lots of expeditions together.


Rob Gauntlett and climbing partner James Hooper speaking to the BBC in November 2008

"He was practically a brother to me. I'm obviously devastated but I'm just trying to remember the fact that he was a wonderful person and he inspired me and others in so many different ways."

Mr Hooper, from Wellington, Somerset, said: "Rob was so ambitious and driven to get the most of life and have the best experiences. He really pushed himself as hard as he could.

"It was only because he was such a motivated and driven person that the accident happened, but those were the qualities that made him so incredible.

We can only take consolation that he died doing something that he loved
Nicola Gauntlett
Dead climber's mother

"I certainly wouldn't have been able to have achieved any of it without Rob. We worked as a team and without him we wouldn't have been able to do it.

Speaking of James, Mr Hooper said: "He was a fantastic guy. He was in the year below Rob and I at school but was very keen. He loved climbing and he loved cycling and he has been a great friend of ours for many years."

He said he and Mr Gauntlett had split up to go climbing with their two less experienced friends on Saturday.

"Rob and James went off to do a route and my friend and I looked at a route, but didn't like the look of the weather so we decided not to," he said.

"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. Then Rob and James stayed up there and they were trying to do a big route yesterday morning and fell."

Mr Gauntlett's parents, Nicola and David have arrived in Chamonix, a French town near the mountain.

Speaking on Saturday night, Mrs Gauntlett said: "We are all just devastated. He's far too young to die. We had spoken about something like this happening only recently," she said.

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

'Follow your dreams'

Mr Gauntlett and Mr Atkinson have been remembered at services at St Mary's Church, Petworth, West Sussex, Mr Gauntlett's home town.

The Very Reverend Michael Till, said: "We remembered them and the wonderful fact that young people put themselves at risk doing what they do.

"This is very tragic news but what a wonderful life [Mr Gauntlett] enjoyed, however short it turned out to be."

Mr Gauntlett and Mr Hooper became the youngest Britons to climb Everest in May 2006.

Speaking from the summit he had 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."

In November 2008 the pair were named National Geographic 2008 Adventurers of the Year at the society's base in Washington DC.

The accolade was in recognition of a 22,000-mile journey using only human and natural power from the Magnetic North to the Magnetic South Poles to raise awareness of climate change.

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