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Inspirational writer and renowned mountaineer who has climbed Mount Everest without supplementary oxygenRequest fees and availability
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Our public speaker Stephen Venables is a writer, broadcaster and one of the best known mountaineers of his generation and was the first Briton to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen.
That epic 1988 climb was by a new route up the Kangshung Face – the biggest face on Everest – with a four man Anglo-American-Canadian team. This was the first time such a small team had tackled such a route this hard on Everest, without Sherpa support or oxygen. Stephen reached the summit alone, seven weeks after first setting foot on the face. Caught out by darkness, he was then forced to spend the night in the open, without shelter, food, or drink, at 28,000 feet above sea level – a new record for a solo bivouac. It was not until morning he could rejoin his companions (who had not reached the summit) to make a retreat down the mountain, concluding a journey which the world-renowned mountaineer Reinhold Messner described as, ‘perhaps the most adventurous expedition in Everest’s history.’
During his career, the strong-willed speaker Stephen Venables has travelled right through the Himalaya, from Afghanistan to Tibet, making first ascents of many previously unknown mountains. His adventures have also taken him to the Rockies, the Andes, Antarctica, South Georgia, South Africa, East Africa, and of course the European Alps, where he has climbed and skied for over forty years.
The stories of his travels have captivated his audiences ranging from schools and theatres to corporate conferences all over the world. Past clients include Accenture, BP, BlackRock, Boots, Liffe, Masterfoods, Ove Arup, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Shell, Stryker & Zurich. ‘Your pace and pitch were spot on.’ BlackRock.
Our speaker Stephen Venables has also appeared in television documentaries for BBC, National Geographic and ITV. He has presented for Radio 4 and appeared in the IMAX movie Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure. He recently had his first experience behind the camera, filming Ranulph Fiennes for ITN News. In 2009 he was asked to write the initial treatment and shooting script for the first ever IMAX film on the Alps.
He has written for all the London broadsheet newspapers, covering exploration and adventure, as well as more diverse subjects such as gardening, transport, sculpture and music. His first book in 1986, Painted Mountains, won the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Sir Chris Bonington, called it ‘an absolute delight’. He later helped save Venables’ life on Panch Chuli during an epic escape related in A Slender Thread. In all Stephen has published twelve books. Reviewing the most recent, Higher than the Eagle Soars, the Sunday Times wrote, ‘the story of his descent after a night spent near the top [of Everest] is both harrowing and deeply moving.
The admirable speaker Stephen Venables is a past president of the world’s oldest mountaineering organisation, The Alpine Club, and of the South Georgia Association. He has an Honorary Doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University and, in addition to the Boardman Tasker Prize, his books have won awards at the Banff International Mountain Festival.See keynotes with Stephen Venables
Motivational talks on his various experiences and adventures.
Watch speaker Stephen Venables in action
I have a bit of soft spot for anniversaries. I’ve just been celebrating the 25th anniversary of an extraordinary escape. In 1992, descending from the summit of a previously untouched Himalayan summit, I crashed 80 metres down the mountainside when an abseil anchor failed, breaking both my legs. Thanks to the courage and skill of my companions I was airlifted to safety four days later.
The accident was a freak stroke of bad luck; my escape was a miracle of good luck. I had to cope with pain and fear, but without my four companions, Victor Saunders, Dick Renshaw, Stephen Sustad and Chris Bonington – and two very brave Indian Airforce pilots – I never would have got out alive. My escape was a triumph of skilled teamwork.
During the coming year I will be celebrating another anniversary and another brilliant team – the American and Canadian mountaineers with whom I climbed a new route up the gigantic Kangshung Face of Everest, in 1988. ‘Why don’t you go and climb a smaller mountain?’ was typical of the advice we received from some legendary respected mountaineers. But we were young and brash and united by a wild dream, so the four of us ignored our elders and enjoyed the adventure of a lifetime.
We were the smallest team ever to climb such a hard new route on Everest, with no high altitude porters and no supplementary oxygen. The memories of those days on that gigantic wall have sustained me for thirty years. But you can’t live on memories alone. The important thing is to remain open to new experiences. So I’m glad that in 2018 I will be leading expeditions to Antarctica and to the island of South Georgia, sailing on Skip Novak’s Pelagic Australis, with new teams and new untouched summits waiting to be explored.
What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?
You don’t have to be uniquely fortunate or talented to achieve great things. What matters is how you cope with inevitable bad luck, but equally make the most of your good luck, seizing life’s opportunities, learning from team mates and relishing the thrill of the big project.
What is the most unique experience you have had as a keynote speaker?
I once did an illustrated Everest talk in a packed parish church. We back-projected from the altar onto a huge sheet of whitewashed polythene sheet stretched over the church crossing. It’s the only time I’ve talked from a pulpit.
The most challenging, though, was for an outdoor corporate event. They asked me to do an illustrated keynote speech. The only snag with that was that the delegates were gathered in a white marquee on a very sunny midsummer morning. This was the pre-digital era and the projected slides were opaque to the point of invisibility. Never mind, it gave the audience an opportunity to use its imagination, and me the necessity to paint vivid word pictures.
Perhaps the most surprising for the audience was the time when I was recuperating from a Himalayan accident, with both legs in plaster. Defying all the doctors’ warnings about the risk of post-operative infection, my wife sprang me from hospital and drove me up to the conference center. The assembled British Gas managers were astounded to see their keynote speaker manoeuvred in on an NHS wheel chair.
Where does your climbing passion stem from?
It all started with walking, scrambling and skiing in the mountains and wanting to get onto the steeper more interesting bits. Few things beat the intense tactile pleasure and mental stimulus of rock climbing. On big mountains you add snow and ice – and at times an element of danger – for a richer multi-media experience. It all stems from the desire to immerse yourself totally in the big journey.
What is the most dangerous situation you have found yourself in?
Alone on the summit of Everest, at four o’clock in the afternoon, without the benefit of supplementary oxygen. My great fear had always been that I might just be strong enough to reach the top without oxygen, but would I have the reserves to get back down again? The sky had clouded over, it was starting to snow, in three hours it would be dark. My two companions had already turned back and our tents and sleeping bags were a thousand meters lower down. I really had to force myself to get a grip and keeping moving downwards.
What type of audience benefits most from your keynotes?
I have addressed audiences of all ages, all over the world. Any audience enjoys a good story. However, in the corporate world, perhaps the people who benefit most are those facing difficult, uncertain times. Mountaineers thrive on uncertainty: it’s what makes us tick. And the joy is to share that sense of adventure with other people.
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