New Zealand’s paramount expedition leader Guy Cotter has achieved as long a string of notable mountaineering ascents as anyone else alive.
Not only has climbed Mt Everest four times but he has also ascended many of the world’s highest peaks including the Seven Summits, the highest peak on every continent. At 17 he had already climbed New Zealand highest peak Mt Cook.
His passion for the mountains saw him focus on a career as a mountain guide and his skills earned him a position working alongside fellow Kiwis Rob Hall and Gary Ball when they established their Everest guiding company; Adventure Consultants. Guy excelled as a high altitude guide and led the team to the summit that year and on subsequent years.
Frank: So did that carry on for long?
Guy: Sadly it didn’t last much longer. Both Gary and Rob succumbed to the perils of altitude and died in separate incidents in the mountains of Nepal. I just happened that I took over the reins of the company and raised it from the ashes to become a sustainable and internationally renowned expedition operator.
Frank: Do you just climb and plan expeditions now?
Guy: I pretty much plan and organise the expeditions and now we are getting in fresh leaders. Having said that I am planning to partake in at least one expedition a year as time allows. I also do a bit of speaking. Last year I was contracted by the largest power company in Australia doing health and safety presentations. I spoke to 2000 employees over four weeks and gave 44 lectures. I used Mt Everest as a metaphor for hazard management and accident reduction linking in my own story with their OHS programme. I provided a bit of ‘shock and awe’ with hazard management in my world compared to theirs. The Australian company was really pleased as this was an interesting and entertaining way to deliver the health and safety message as opposed to a boffin turning up wearing his health and safety hat giving dry lectures.
Frank: I heard you started climbing around the steeper hills on Banks Peninsula and Arthurs pass at the age of 11. Is that right?
Guy: Yep. I got into climbing and tramping as a teenager. In 1977 I did a traverse of the Southern Alps from Arthur’s Pass to Mt Cook. It has been done before, but what I was only 15 years old and Rob Hall who was with me was only 16.
Frank: Did you ease into the Adventure Consultant business slowly after 1996?
Guy: Actually it was a hectic time. Within two years of taking on the company I summited again on Everest in 1997 and also on Gasherbrum II (13th highest), Ama Dablam and Cho Oyu (6th highest) with an attempt on Gasherbrum I. I became the first westerner to guide clients to the summits of three 8000 metre peaks in one year, as well as guiding and climbing Vinson Massif in Antarctica in December. The following year I attempted Mt Dhaulagiri in western Nepal which at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain in the world, but the expedition was turned back due to heavy snow conditions. But I did another summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica followed by the first ascent of a mountain in the Sentinel Range. The climb up the peak, Mt Slaughter, was taken by a moderately technical route becoming one of the highlights of my career because it was the first ascent of the mountain.
Frank: We read that you had a bit to do with some recent movies down in Wanakathe Southern Alps. Is that right?
Guy: Yes I was appointed climbing co-ordinator for the Hollywood feature film The Vertical Limit filmed in 1999 and 2000. I was written into the script featuring as myself for a small portion of the film.
Frank: And you have continued climbing and leading expeditions over the last 10 years?
Guy: Pretty much without a break. We’ve organised expeditions to done Everest every year but also all the seven summits, which I completed myself in 2005, but we now offer expeditions to all seven of the peaks to our clients every year. After a personal hiatus of nine years away from I reached the summit of Everest again in 2006 and 2007. But I balance my time between steering the company and fulfilling my love of rock and mountain climbing as well as mountain biking and photography. At other times I hide from the cell phone to go fishing and diving from my dingy off the south west coast of the South Island.
Frank: How did your expedition to Everest go last year?
Guy: Our climbers reached the world’s highest peak last May to become the first Kiwi expedition to summit Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary died earlier last year. Among the New Zealanders in the expedition were guides Lydia Bradey and Mike Roberts. Bradey was the first woman in the world in 1988 to climb Everest without oxygen. That lifted our number of successful Everest ascents by Kiwi climbers to 54. But it was a strange season. We had Chinese Olympic torch carrying climbers on the summit climbing from the North or Tibetan side while on the, Nepalese side of the mountain we had soldiers with guns at Camp 2 stopping climbers from going high on the mountain for fear of interference. We also were forced to endure, political wrangling in Kathmandu and covert surveillance of the climbing teams. Then there was discovery by the military of a ‘Free Tibet’ climbing protester who was ousted from base camp, so last year’s climbers had more than just climbing tales to regale. Everything has returned to normal now and we’re looking forward to running our Everest expedition without the interference of politics.
Frank: We understand you have been recognised by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one the best mountaineering companies in the world!
Guy: Yes! We were lined up against the best mountaineering companies in the world and we were placed 4th overall with a score of 92 out of 100. We were only 3 points shy of a major American company that came in first and we equalled their customer satisfaction score. Being a New Zealand based company working in the international arena makes us have to work much harder to achieve the success that we have so it’s great to be recognised for that.
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