Friend says final goodbye to Petworth climber Rob Gauntlett who was killed in the French Alps

A mountaineer today said his final goodbyes to two of his best friends who died in the French Alps before he prepared to return to the UK.

James Hooper, 21, will travel home tomorrow following an adventure holiday which ended in the deaths of Rob Gauntlett from Petworth and James Atkinson from Wisborough Green.

The pair, both aged 21, plunged to their deaths while climbing at the weekend in the Chamonix region on a route on the east face of Mont Blanc.

Tributes have poured in for Durham University student Mr Atkinson and Mr Gauntlett, who became the youngest Briton to conquer Everest in 2006 with Mr Hooper.

Footballer David Beckham, who filmed a television advert with Mr Gauntlett, was said to have been sad to have heard news of the tragedy.

Speaking from Chamonix, Mr Hooper, from Wellington, Somerset, said today: "We've just picked up their possessions and have said our goodbyes to the boys."

The three adventurers were on holiday with a fourth friend. It was the first time they had all managed to take a break together.

Mr Hooper said Mr Gauntlett's parents, David and Nicola, were flying back to the UK tonight (Monday, Janaury 12) and that both bodies are due back at the end of this week or the start of next week.

Today, the headmaster at the victims' former school said Mr Gauntlett and Mr Atkinson were hugely determined and passionate about climbing.

John Franklin, of independent Christ's Hospital School in Horsham, added that pupils and staff were informed of their deaths at last night's chapel service.

Mr Franklin said: "They were fine young men; quietly spoken, hugely determined and passionate about their climbing.

"Their deaths come as a terrible blow to us all and the only faint consolation is that they died in the mountains doing what they loved best."

Mr Hooper said that, as the two most experienced mountaineers, he and Mr Gauntlett split up with their two less experienced friends.

He said: "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.

"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 ... and fell."

Mr Gauntlett and Mr Hooper hatched a plan to climb Everest during their GCSEs, which they succeeded in doing three years later.

Mr Gauntlett, who was also a keen cyclist, continued to take on extreme challenges and in March 2007, he and Mr Hooper set off on a journey from the North Geomagnetic Pole to the South Magnetic Pole using entirely human and natural power.

Over the next 13 months, the adventurers travelled 26,000 miles using methods including skis, dog sleds, cycling and sailing to cross land, sea and ice.

To leave your tributes to Rob leave your comments below, email the newsroom at [email protected] or ring reporter Jenny Mouland on 07801 195 419.

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