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Venables, Stephen 1954–

VENABLES, Stephen 1954–

PERSONAL: Born May 5, 1954, in London, England; son of Richard (an advertising director) and Ann (a teacher; maiden name, Richards) Venables; married Rosie Grieves-Cook (a garden designer), December 29, 1990; children: Oliver, Edmond. Education: New College, Oxford, M.A. (with honors), 1975; Westminster College, certificate of education, 1980. Politics: "Unaffiliated." Religion: Church of England. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the piano, gardening, architecture, reading.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—10 Larkhall Terr., Bath BA1 6RZ, England. Agent—Vivienne Schuster, Curtis Brown, 162-168 Regent St., London W1R 5TB, England.

CAREER: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, England, stage technician, 1976; Peter Woloszysnki Photography, Bath, England, photographic assistant, 1978; teacher at schools in Oxford, England, 1979, and York, England, 1980–82; self-employed carpenter in Bath, 1982–86; Luke Hughes and Co., London, England, carpenter, 1986–87; freelance writer and lecturer in London, 1987–89, and Bath, 1989–. British Mountaineering Council, vice president, 1990–92; broadcaster on British television and radio; guest on television programs, including Blue Peter, Wogan, and Survival Challenge.

MEMBER: Royal Geographical Society, Alpine Club (vice president, 1992–94), Alpine Ski Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Boardman-Tasker Award for mountain literature, 1986; named RADAR Man of the Year, 1988; awards from Outdoor Writers Guild, 1990, 1992; awards for photography.


Painted Mountains: Two Expeditions to Kashmir, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1986.

Everest: Kangshung Face, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1989.

Island at the Edge of the World: A South Georgia Odyssey, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1992.

M for Mountains (for children), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Andy Fanshawe) Himalaya Alpine-Style: The Most Challenging Routes on the Highest Peaks, The Mountaineers (Seattle, WA), 1996.

Everest: Alone at the Summit: A Survival Story, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2000.

A Slender Thread: Escaping Disaster in the Himalaya, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Lost Mountains: Two Expeditions to Kashmir, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2001.

To the Top: The Story of Everest, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Contributor of articles and photographs to magazines and newspapers, including Outdoors Illustrated, Amateur Photographer, Geographical, Sports Illustrated, Illustrated London News, and World.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A sailing and climbing expedition to Antarctica, to be recorded in the documentary film Antarctica: Into the Ice, produced by Serac Adventure Films.

SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Venables is a mountaineer and author whose accounts of his outdoor adventures have provided thrilling reading for many. He first became interested in mountains while taking childhood ski trips to the Alps with his family, and began climbing seriously while a student at Oxford. Eventually, he was able to make his living from writing, lecturing, and photography associated with his expeditions. He has made many of the most famous Alpine climbs, picked out new climbing routes in the Andes mountains, and guided people up the three highest peaks in Africa. He has made climbs in the Himalaya mountains as well as expeditions to Antarctica to conquer the mountains on that continent.

Recalling some of his Himalayan treks, Venables told CA: "In 1977, I made an overland journey to Afghanistan to pioneer new routes in the Hindu Kush mountains. In 1983, I made the first ascent of Kisthwar-Shivling, one of the most spectacular, then-unclimbed, peaks of Kashmir. Two years later there was the Indo-British expedition to the Terong Glacier; we were the first people to visit the area for fifty-six years. In 1987, I made a major exploratory traverse of the Karakoram Range in Pakistan, including the first ascent, solo, of the Solu Tower. I also created a new route on Pungpa Ri in Tibet, with the Scientific Exploration Society expedition. The next year came Everest, an extremely hard new route on the notorious east face, with a four-person Anglo-American team. I reached the summit alone, without the aid of bottled oxygen. That was followed by the first ascent of the south ridge of Kusum Kanguru in Nepal in 1991, and the first ascent of Panch Chuli V in India in 1992."

Venables mused to CA: "Over the years, expeditions have taken their toll. During my solo summit bid on Everest, I was forced to bivouac in the open at twenty-eight-thousand feet, resulting in the loss of three frostbitten toes. Four years later, descending from Panch Chuli, I was badly injured in a three-hundred-foot fall. Thanks to the skill and courage of both my teammates and Indian Air Force helicopter pilots, I was evacuated safely.

"Injury is an occupational hazard that most mountaineers encounter at some stage. Accidents certainly encourage caution, but they never completely extinguish the spirit of adventure. I still have many plans for wilderness projects, which I hope will inspire and entertain my audience for years to come."

Venables related the story of his near-fatal fall at Panch Chuli in his book A Slender Thread: Escaping Disaster in the Himalaya. An Observer reviewer noted that the book "establishes itself in a tradition of climbing literature that takes sustenance from the darker side of mountaineering, examining what Venables calls the 'paradox' of the moments when beauty, exhilaration and danger connect. The best climbing writing has always had its roots in the laying bare of this paradox. It is the realm where adventure exists." The reviewer added: "As with his previous books, Painted Mountains and Everest, Kangshung Face, Venables writes with understated elegance, conjuring up vividly and honestly his companions while also showing an acute awareness of the environment through which he travels."

In 2001, Venables was part of an expedition that sought to recreate the 1914 Antarctic trek made by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Accompanying him were Reinhold Messner and Conrad Anker, two other world-class mountain-climbers. Shackleton's mission was plagued by disaster, including being lost, having his ship crushed by ice, and being forced to toboggan down a 2,000-yard, nearly vertical face sheet of ice. Venables and his companions, whose adventures were filmed for a documentary titled Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, found that on more than one occasion, they were unable to muster up the bravery—or desperation—that drove Shackleton's party. Speaking to Stuart Wavell for the London Sunday Times, Venables recalled the powerful feelings of reaching the spot where Shackleton's party knew they had reached safety: "It was very moving, particularly when we came to the final pass and looked down on the deserted buildings of the whaling station."



Geographical, March, 2000, Holly Smith, review of A Slender Thread: Escaping Disaster in the Himalaya, p. 88; May, 2003, Kathryn Harter, review of Everest: Alone at the Summit, p. 156, Ruth Brookner, review of To the Top: The Story of Everest, p. 151, and Carolyn Fry, review of Everest: Summit of Achievement, p. 148.

Library Journal, October 1, 2000, Tim Markus, review of Everest: Alone at the Summit, p. 112.

Observer (London, England), January 16, 2000, review of A Slender Thread, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of To the Top, p. 63; May 12, 2003, review of Everest: Summit of Achievement, p. 61.

School Library Journal, July, 2003, Joel Shoemaker, review of To the Top, p. 150; April, 2004, review of To the Top, p. S62.

Sunday Times (London, England), October 21, 2001, Stuart Wavell, "Endurance Unlimited," p. 9.


Serac Adventure Films Web site, (February 27, 2003), "Antarctica: Into the Ice."

WGBH Web site, (February 27, 2003), "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure."

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